Karen Houle,
(Gaspereau Press, 2008)

Karen Houle is a philosophy professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. During, her second collection of poetry, is a philosopher's book. It explores ideas, particularly those of continuity, of -- as the press release says -- being in process and of seeing through.

The book is divided into four parts: during, duration, endure and durable -- a breakdown that suggests an inner journey and, indeed, During is a book that is nothing if not internally oriented.

It is abstract and remote, often as distant as one of Spinoza's texts. Philosophy is the subtext and is often, as in "Durable #4," the text as well. The poem begins with the legend:

The true philosopher's occupation consists precisely in the
Freeing and separation of soul from body. Isn't that so?

And continues:

Each of us is one and is replaced
with fewer and fewer varieties, and shades
of hair; flakes of itches of all countries, cuticle snippets
and escaped grains of love rice.
Each home is a rented space shed without seasonal respite.

You can see that Karen Houle does not believe in a simple surface. She expects readers to bring their minds and abilities to think critically and creatively to the table. She writes mostly in short lines and short stanzas, so both her text and her meanings are tightly compressed and are capable of leaping into surrealism:

Inbound, out of the train window,
the dock piling's dropped pants
stiff with lilies and scum
that's the ancient lake down around its own ankles
we're living in a layercake
of unmatched socks of waste.

You can see that her images are fresh, her connections mainly implied and that, if she makes demands on her readers, she offers a lot in return. Ready slowly, attentively, with a little reflection on each poem, and Karen Houle will reward you.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

2 August 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new