Review of The Smooth Yarrow in The Toronto Star

The Smooth Yarrow by Susan Glickman

Published on Friday November 16, 2012

The Smooth Yarrow, Signal Editions, 64 pages, $18
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By Barbara Carey Poetry Columnist

“The universe is a cabinet of mysteries we tiptoe by, wondering,” Susan Glickman writes in one of the poems in The Smooth Yarrow. That capacity for wonder is a hallmark of this Toronto writer’s appealing sixth collection.

The title refers to an herb traditionally believed to have both medicinal and magical properties. In keeping with that motif, many of the poems in the book’s first section address frailty, both physical and emotional, and our attempts to heal ourselves — as well as the intangibles that affect our lives. Glickman also contemplates failings of the social order: in “Witch’s Tit,” for instance, she muses on humankind’s tendency throughout history to persecute others on the basis of appearance.

Glickman notes that the yarrow looks fragile but is actually resilient. The poet’s own work is somewhat deceptive: she writes with clarity and unassuming grace about a range of subjects, including the death of her father (in the book’s most poignant poem, “Breath”). She’s also capable of broad humour (the iconic poet Rilke is depicted lazing in a hammock and sipping a Long Island Iced Tea: who says waiting for inspiration to strike is hard work?). Though seemingly direct, her poems frequently operate on more than one level. The book’s final section is a gardener’s journal of observations about plants, insects and weather. But the garden also serves as a metaphor for life itself (as it has for many poets through the ages), with its cycle of growth and decay, and the utter unpredictability of what will thrive and what won’t.

Elsewhere, she describes the quality of light that makes “the half-full glass of autumn brim over//with glory. Not an upper case, grandiose kind of Glory/but a halo tossed like a Frisbee, accidental and luminous.” Glickman’s own poetry is rooted in the quotidian, not the grandiose. But it’s quietly affecting and often luminous.

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