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Trobairitz

by Catherine Owen

Poetry and metal collide in the latest offering from prolific Vancouver author and musician Catherine Owen. Here, Owen’s voice sounds off like a wolf in a winter forest: it seems lone and foreboding, but its howl is a rallying cry, calling out to a pack whose members may feel just as distant and isolated.

Owen, who has played in the metal bands Inhuman, Helgrind, and Medea, takes the 12th-century troubador tradition and mashes it up with the sensibility of 21st-century metal, a genre not typically associated with poetry, but one that easily crosses over.

The first part of Trobairitz, “Cansos and Other Forms of Adoration,” is epic in both style and ambition, as Owen pounds out sombre love, transcendent rhythms, and gender-bending boldness. “Dividing love from desire – nothing new – there is a history to this knife / but each time I grip the blade backwards / in my own endless narrative of blood,” Owen writes in “Canso 20,” a piece that could easily be adapted into a black metal song or read aloud in bare and hushed tones.

Throughout, Owen’s feminism is fearless, constantly pressing up against metal’s male-dominated norms. In “The Rival,” Owen writes, “In front of me / she sat down on the toilet … at the metal show’s hiatus / and I saw the innocent / question mark of her tampon string,” a line both jarring and beautifully evocative, an image that summons the feminine unexpectedly but sharply.

The contemporary is teased out in pieces like “Sirventes.” Taking the form of an anonymous Facebook post left by a male metal musician, Owen deftly weaves in a quotation from Gormonda de Monpeslier, a trobairitz (female troubadour) who is considered to have authored the first French political poem by a woman.

Owen includes a glossary at the back of the book, which provides interesting context. But even reading it blind, Trobairitz starts the heart like the thud of a bass line and opens the mind like a scream, poem after poem.