Charmaine Cadeau’s placeholder sneaks onto my list because I am reviewing it for The Goose, journal for ecocriticism in Canada. I had hoped to read it without sacrificing more of the poetry I had initially chosen, but it is increasingly apparent my time is more limited than I thought. Such is life. Anyways, Cadeau’s slim volume of poems is an interesting read. Again, I had the sense that I just did not give it enough time in order to do it justice, so this review is less of a review of her ability and more of a reflection on poetry itself.
placeholder, according to the publisher’s description on the back, is “provisional, roaming, and obsessed with remnants and deferrals”. It also “goes beyond the quotidian in search of that which saves the day or ruins the souffle or makes us all squirm in self-recognition.” These descriptions are very accurate as I found the poems continually coming back to the everyday, searching in the cracks of our mundane lives and finding glimmers of wonder and awe. Some of the poems are very good while others left me wanting. Cadeau has a very good sense of image and I found myself regularly underlining an image or metaphor, amazed at its sharpness and clarity. However, this did not always mean that the poem itself was similarly strong. For example, “Signal breaking up” ruminates on the distances (physical and emotional) between a speaker who is at home awaiting her lover’s arrival from afar. The relationship is sharply defined with a few key images, my favorite being “At home, I’m worrying/ the dark finish/ off the arms of the chair, the part/ that curves down.” This, for me, is an incredible image, conveying a depth of emotion and history in a few lines. However, I found the rest of the poem did not match this image’s quality. The poem stays with this speaker trying to reassure herself she has not made a mistake in the relationship before ending on the dangers of mermaids who may waylay her lover. I didn’t like the ending partly because it introduced a new element to the relationship of the lovers but also because I felt it fell flat.
All of this to say that I’m not sure what to do with poetry anymore. Grand, epic poetry is no longer in style. It died a hard death with the advent of postmodernism (or something like that), such that it seems like most poets now are left with only the everyday or the quotidian to write about. And at a certain point, this poetry fails to excite me. I find myself wanting poets to aim higher, to be grandiose, to take risks. Of course, this type of poetry doesn’t get published anymore. Especially not by a poet with only one previous book of poems to her credit as Cadeau possesses. So is it her fault that the poems are occasionally ordinary? Or is it a publishing system that requires a poet to publish various poems in small literary journals (all of whom want their own style) before they will look at a potential manuscript? I’m just not sure about poetry anymore. Cadeau is a technically gifted poem and a number of poems like “Dog Star,” “Two Can Play,” “Slip,” and “Erosion” all attest to this. placeholder is a good collection of poems, but I am no longer a patient reader of poetry it seems.
I would recommend placeholder to serious readers of poetry because it displays some spectacular pyrotechnics.
Cadeau, Charmaine. placeholder. London, ON: Brick Books, 2013. Print.