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The Disorder of Love

by Karen Connelly

With The Disorder of Love, her third collection of poetry, Calgary native Karen Connelly maps the often-rocky terrain of romantic and familial relationships. Divided into three sections, the book contains poems set in Greece and Canada, but essentially constitutes one long, borderless poem in which the narrator tries to understand the puzzling vagaries of love, its pleasure and pain, but most importantly, its unyielding grasp on the imagination. Poems of heterosexual and lesbian desire, of broken relationships and missed connections, of absence and longing, form an interrelated meditation on matters of the heart.

Unfortunately, the volume suffers from an overindulgent gaze on the poet’s interior world, a gaze only occasionally turned outward by a startling image or insight, as when Connelly describes pelicans as “exhausted angels.” A romantic celebration of the ego can be compelling, but only when the poet pays careful attention to the rhythms and sounds of the language. Connelly’s free-verse lyric is so without internal tension that the poems rarely rise above the level of image-lists. Some of the images are effective, but eventually they operate as substitutes for content rather than more subtle expressions of it. If, as Keats wrote, poems should come as naturally as leaves to a tree, then these poems are unnatural; the poet shows her hand at nearly every turn, and the result is a long refrain of lust and heartache so busy being poetic that it never fully engages the reader.

However, the book is not without merit. When Connelly focuses on the physical world, to describe a snowfall as the slowest avalanche, or salt as the breath of bones, it is clear she is gifted with poetic vision. But it is a hard truth in poetry that a desire to express feeling, coupled with a flair for imagistic language, is not a strong enough foundation on which to build successful poems. If Connelly applies her talent to this truth, and overcomes the young poet’s predilection for mistaking an openness about sexuality with eroticism, she will doubtless write many moving love poems. For now, her attempts to do so are a disappointment.