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Mortal Arguments

by Sue Sinclair

In Mortal Arguments, transplanted Newfoundland poet Sue Sinclair widens her poetic vision to embrace the whole span of human existence – from birth to death. These poems dwell more on questions and images of mortality, as the title signals, than did those in her previous collection, Secrets of Weather & Hope.

Given the theme of mortality, time is a potent force in these poems. The collection marks time primarily through the various leavings, losses, and absences that define a mortal existence. In the poem “At the Platform, Newcastle,” Sinclair describes a lover’s parting: “there was none of the pain/you’d expect until the train pulled/out and the piece of us/that is time/ripped apart.” Time leaves its mark on everything in Mortal Arguments – from human faces to the sand on the beach, as Sinclair writes in “Wickannish”: “The litter of splintered wood/at the top of the beach, the silver edge/time leaves on things.”

Though Toronto is now the author’s home, the landscape and character of Newfoundland seeps into many of her poems. Even those poems about urban places and events invoke a longing for something beyond the pace of city life : “A round sign shines like a moon outside the bank: your stop:/you insert yourself into the streets’ thoughts/like a ticket into a slot. They expected if not you, someone./But there has to be more to it…”

While her poetry leans strongly toward the philosophical, Sinclair is at her most profound when she details precisely the surfaces and appearances of everyday things. Mating dragonflies above the water, a view from a ferry deck, some roses in a vase – these are the images through which Sinclair creates or discovers something, a glimpse perhaps, of the unknowable. In images like these, rather than the more heavy-handed philosophical allusions, dwell Sinclair’s most compelling mortal arguments.