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Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems

by Lynn Crosbie

This selection, it is really more of a collection, is the very opposite of the proverbial slim volume of poems. From the five non-angels in “Pentangeli” to the ultimate grace of “Pearl,” this work demands a great deal of the reader, perhaps too much. It is indeed almost impossible to comprise all this in one short review.

To judge from the number of quotations attached to these various works, Crosbie herself must be an avid reader. These range from the sometimes too obvious – Joyce, Lowell, Donne, Sexton – to the recorded words of the murderer Ted Bundy, to unknown, and sometimes mysterious, poet friends of the writer.

Although some of these quotations are apt and enlightening, particularly the poet’s own charming first poem, I found the plethora of other people’s words distracting to say the least.

Of the six sections (I am tempted to call them books); I found the long piece “VillainElle” by far the most interesting. It is also the most baffling. This journey through place, time, and various lovers is exhausting, though admittedly exciting. The series of flickering pictures it leaves in the reader’s mind is reminiscent of an old movie, something not quite remembered, though not quite forgotten.

If I had to choose my favourite single poem from this book I would certainly plump for “The Fly” from the section entitled “Pearl.” Here at last the poet is looking outward rather than inward, describing something other than herself, and the result is words that I find I am repeating to myself: “darkling, drop of ink. A currant in the sugar dish, he models in the/painted flowers, black eye/of Susan, blunt thorn…”

A word of warning: Crosbie seems to be fascinated by violence. This is, of course, a part of all of us. But the other side of this coin, sentimentality, does sometimes come up in the toss.