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Book Reviews

Looking East Over My Shoulder

by Jill Jorgenson

Toronto writer Jill Jorgenson has infused her first collection of poetry with a gentle and beguiling gracefulness. The book opens with “Daybreak Suite,” a group of four poems that beautifully sets the tone for the entire volume. Colour and light are at the heart of many of Jorgenson’s verses, and this grouping captures these elements while also displaying a tender sense of humour.

Many of Jorgenson’s poems are about the small wonders of life: backyard plants and animals, a cup of coffee being stirred. Titles such as “cicadas,” “bumblebee,” and “petals and butterflies” indicate Jorgenson’s connection to the natural world, even within a city’s environs. The poet’s other main concern involves personal relationships, with her partner, mother, and other family members. There is no whining or suicidal angst here, but there’s also no treacly sweetness. Jorgenson excels at writing about normal people with basically happy lives, a rather tricky thing to do in poetry.

In “Spaces Between,” the speaker contemplates the loss of her lover’s brother, a young man who spent time in jail and is now remembered through childhood photographs and two letters he wrote to his sister. The poem is moving in its simplicity and control: “but your album and letters she will place in their drawer, / gentle as a sigh, where they will stay, and for now I will hold her.”

Jorgenson’s playful side comes across in her use of repetition, puns, and onomatopoeia. For example, in “Ghoulish Umbrella: A Response to My Mother’s Matter-of-Fact Email,” she writes: “taking care of details / about details about taking care of / you; while your intellect is intact / you tell us in a tact- / ful manner what to do with / your manor.” While the poem’s subject (setting in order the affairs of someone soon to die) is serious, the levity of the language diminishes the sadness.

Looking East Over My Shoulder is marked by quiet joy – joy in life and in language. It’s a lovely debut.