In her third poetry collection, Ottawa’s Pearl Pirie unleashes her deep curiosity about language. Writing on the BookThug blog, Pirie claims, “I like when the words in words are not the root word but are embedded in order inside other words.” In this spirit, she set up a Twitter-bot account with her husband, sharing tweets that create false etymological relationships: “Well, isn’t liar at the root of peculiarity?”
Each poem in the pet radish, shrunken explores and dissects sound, form, and linguistic play, frustrating what Pirie calls embedded sense – the deeper meanings we ascribe to words, and by extension, the world. In “the body, its calendar” she writes, “wouldn’t we all fly up if not clasped? / you & I talk of saturn. I say weight. / you reply, mass, mass, but all I hear / is the trinity. dust, our size, not our origin.” Worlds collide in this single stanza: creationism is pitted against not only evolution, but existentialism.
Poems like “replies accepted” may feel cacophonic on a first read, but after closer scrutiny, true intentions emerge: “but remember, the occult powers of intent / change everything, keep anyone / from getting hurt, offended or affected.” Is Pirie saying what one does is not as important as one’s intentions? Or perhaps she is saying we can’t really control what we put out in the world, and attempting to effect change often leads to more harm than good. Pirie is especially critical of foreign military interventions in conflict regions around the world. In “never read the comments,” she writes: “don’t be trolled or cross an ocean for who / wouldn’t cross the street for you // if you were on fire.”
Many of these poems aren’t pretty in a lyrical sense, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because they please the mind in another way. Like a difficult crossword puzzle or an advanced sudoku, Pirie’s poems are a stimulating exercise in cognition, where reading becomes a process of unravelling language. Spend enough time with Pirie’s poetry and you may start seeing the ear in earth, and the art at its core.