Johanna Skibsrud,
Late Nights With Wild Cowboys
(Gaspereau Press, 2008)

As a poet, Johanna Skibsrud describes herself as continually astounded that the border between her and the outside world is so hard to describe. These poems, she declares, are about that problem -- "...chasing ideas and forms (the problem of where one ends and the other begins), as well as the problem of understanding and expressing the experiences that elude those boundaries."

Her poems are dreamy, often taking place in a world that seems to be not ours, but an archetypal shadow of the world we inhabit, a place where two hikers on the way back from Hell Canyon might be arsonists. Then again, they may simply be hikers. The speaker in Skibsrud's poem takes in the two possibilities without comment.

The poet projects herself into the paintings of Edward Hopper, but does not choose to be one of the people represented there:

I wouldn't be the girl. I'd be the
step by the rail of the porch; I wouldn't
listen to the man.

She imagines Heaven as a cul de sac in a suburb, declaring that she wlll not require much:

Just the cul de sac.
Just that. The barbecues. The potluck dinners.
The badminton net
Leaning in the yard.

Here is a poet who is nostalgic for a world that never was. She writes in good, plain speech and her poems do not overpower you, as she chooses to let the ideas quietly overpower plain fact so that they build up to small and silent explosions. Make Johanna Skibsrud's acquaintance in these poems and you'll be wanting to drop by and see her again, to get to know her better.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

16 August 2008

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