In her first book of poems since her collection Lemon Hound, Montreal-based Sina Queyras employs the Romantic tradition of pastoral poetry to create passionate indictments of our consumerist, car-obsessed culture and our fast-lane mentality. In “Solitary,” a woman stands near the I-95, where “a patch/ of emerald turf” is “besieged by doggy bags,” the nearby expressway “[s]moothing each nuisance of wild, each terrifying/ Quirk of land.”
Elsewhere, the natural and the synthetic are less at odds – are, in fact, indivisible. In “The Grey Hills of Oxford,” “tires lose their particularity” when seen at a distance, “become brushstrokes, hills/ Fading into sky.” This blending of elements acts as an incisive commentary on our modern era. The infrastructures we’ve created – the systems of roadways, electrical grids, and pipelines – are no less a part of the landscape than the trees and the fields.
Rectifying the situation is therefore difficult. “Three Dreams of the Expressway,” in which women descend upon a highway with pickaxes to reclaim the earth, is just that: a dream, a Luddite fantasy. To complicate things, Queyras’ expressway is no simple stretch of asphalt, but a pervasive, destructive mode of thought. It represents a culture lacking in social or environmental conscience, one that fetishizes commodities like automobiles to the detriment of the environment.
“Crash,” for instance, is composed of media utterances piled together like a multi-vehicle accident. “Three-car crash turns deadly. Multiple-car crash along the Atlantic City Expressway,” it goes, the violence compounding as the poem progresses. The repetition of an italicized phrase – “Cached. Similar pages. Note this” – suggests we’re travelling another highway: the so-called “information highway” of the Internet.
Ultimately, Expressway is a cry of outrage, but one that is cunning and savvy, fully conscious of the danger in taking an overtly political artistic stance: “This poem veering toward tract now,” Queyras writes at one point, “all engine lights red, shouldn’t you be counting meter? Sweeping thought under the mat?”
Thankfully, in Expressway, we don’t have to pick between good poetry and a critical mindset: Queyras conveys righteous anger with flair.