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Two Hemispheres

by Nadine McInnis

Two Hemispheres, Ottawa-based poet Nadine McInnis’s fifth collection, is a chronicle of depression and recovery told from both a personal and a historical viewpoint. McInnis constructs 10 accounts of mental illness based on mid-19th-century photographs of women patients at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in England.

This is very much poetry of the heart and soul, if not of the blood and guts. McInnis’ speaker is always close to something: on the verge of violence and sexual aggression or pleasure, on the brink of illumination. “Go further. You might find/ what you’re looking for,” she writes in “Loss of reason.”

The tone of the subject matter, while tempered with erotic moments, is predominantly melancholic. The prose-like fictional accounts lack the finely wrought lines of the best poetry. While moments of stunning imagery and poetic triumph do erupt in a handful of the poems, the plethora of historical and biographical content (in the photographs and in a poignant afterword) leaves little room for hard-boiled verse.

Still, though the language is occasionally prosaic and imprecise, the stories are interesting. These poems are earnest excavations of human and feminist territory, and give remarkable characterizations to those who have been, in effect, faceless women in our society.