The rural life of a Mennonite community in Southern Ontario forms the backdrop to Karen Enns’ debut collection. At once lush and spare – evidence of mentor Patrick Lane’s influence is very much apparent – her poems draw heavily upon natural imagery, though they are rarely about nature per se. Likewise, physical objects do not preoccupy her poetic sensibility: references to farm implements, dust, animals, and trees appear almost incidentally. Enns is most interested in life’s peripheral moments, the things that vanish if you turn to look at them directly, like the light from distant stars.
Enns is fond of opening her poems in medias res – a few of them start with the word “And” or “Then” – and employs a variant on the non sequitur within many of her verses. These stylistic techniques impart a quirky tension to much of the book. At their best, her lyrics are ethereal and unmoored. In isolated cases, however, they come across as jarring and slight.
In the book’s first two sections, images such as “the pockets hollow-mouthed” and “eyes on the future like a dark horse / judging distance, pace” light up what might otherwise be overly cautious poems. The quality picks up in the third section, featuring work that is denser, more deftly and confidently composed. The tone in these last poems is as mellow and contemplative as in those leading up to them, but here it is suffused with wisdom. The senses continue to take in observations, but the poet’s mind has a better grasp of what to do with the data.
Overall, Enns proves a patient, observant poet, and despite its drawbacks, That Other Beauty is a fine collection with which to launch her career.