Posted by Daniela Elza on May 29 2011

Last year I helped organize a few launches for Al Rempel’s first book of poetry understories published by Caitlin Press. Al came down to Vancouver form Prince George. Maybe I overdid it to get him to read four times in four days. Yes, it was an intense four days but I enjoyed them. I finally sat with the book and read it cover to cover. And I am glad I did.

These are poems you want to hear read aloud.
Under the music that runs like a river, there is a grief that pulls you through the eye of a needle.
Stretches you so thin that you do not know where to begin. Through this eye look at the map of this northern landscape. (No, seriously, do click here and look at the google map of understories. I love what Al has done.) These poems are destinations. Destinations with people. Portraits ripple to the surface of water, and when the water stills, ever so briefly, you catch a glimpse of the neighbours, of Berenice, the logger, or the old drunk at the end of the return line of shopping carts trying to tease 25 cents out of it (in Blessed).

Then there are “the mountains folded into the shadows” and the forest and the glaciers and the river which “wears the spectre of wet limbs”. “Go down the the river and swallow it whole” (Go Down to the River) Get it down, urges Al. Swallow this tangle of human and natural landscape because we cannot tell where one ends and where the other begins. This constant tug-of-war. And there is no telling. How can we? Gulp this river down, the whole mess of it. And find beauty there. Make it yours.

Arthur Joyce rightfully says, “Rempel proves that it’s the poet, not the environmentalist, who makes us ache to preserve the natural beauty of the world.” (see his review of 4poets (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2009))

And of course there are the crows: “even Mr. Crow frustrated that his knowledge of tools/isn’t getting things fixed?”
Of course, I would notice the crows.

“Then nothing, but the slow breathing/that is the forest and everything in it.”
Sit here, in “the slant of light in the trees/and the time it spells.” Let it wash over you.
Lie down with this sorrow that runs just under the surface of things.
Let it wash you clean.

5 Responses to “understories”

  1. Al Says:

    Thanks so much, Daniela! It’s always interesting to see what poems & phrases other readers pick out and enjoy. Cheers!

  2. Glen Says:

    ooooh Daniela what a great review… you’ve said what I probably should have been thinking… instead I’m thinking about the origins of the word banter

  3. sterling haynes Says:

    “the mountains folded into the shadows” – great poems Al. Congratulations on your poem in the national anthology

  4. Bonnie Nish Says:

    Daniela or should I say Doctor Dan? Congratulations! You so deserve the honour. You are wonderful in your writing, your thoughts and your process. This is just the beginning of more great things from you I have no doubt of that. Love the pictures. With love and the utmost respect. B

  5. Strange Places » I have been tagged in *The next Big Thing* interview series Says:

    […] of poetry are understories (Caitlin Press) and The Picket Fence Diaries (Lipstick Press).(Here is a book view I did of Al’s understories.) His poems have also appeared in The Malahat Review, CV2, Event, and in anthologies such as The […]