Earle Street: Poems by Arleen Paré

Feb 21, 2023

            In Earle Street: Poems, Arleen Paré digs into the infrastructure of place. Unearths for us the very foundations of urban life. As if to say “Look! This is who we are”. Not simply people inside buildings. But storm drains and catch basins, trees and their inhabitants, the passing seasons, birds in flight, neighbours observing neighbours, the abiding presence of first peoples on the land. When she writes “… Start from the inside, as though organic, as though building from inside a seed.” (4) she opens up an intimate and profound dialogue with place.

The poems in Earle Street are grouped into four sections: “This Street is a River”, “This Street is an Arboretum”, “This Street is a Window”, and “This Street is a World”. As the section headings suggest, the work invites us to consider our ideas about place from multiple perspectives. For example, in the poem “This Land is a Language”, Paré deconstructs the word “unceded” against the backdrop of Earle Street. She writes: “… this street   these rectangulars and irregular verbs / vehicles   curbs   all within these unceded territories …” and, “… at the same time in a parallel universe / the notion of ceded land / does not arise in the Coast Salish languages …”. (9) By anchoring the poem in the details of a single city street situated on unceded land, Paré pushes into the meaning of “unceded”, acknowledging both the enduring relationship of Indigenous Peoples to the land and the embeddedness of the colonial enterprise. This engagement with language and forms of knowing threads through the book. In “Urban Geography I” and “Urban Geography II”, she examines the way we write about the city, how we conceptualize the attributes of a “good” city, the city as it travels through time adapting to waves of human conflict. Always returning to the particular, Paré asks: “… which social agent’s small baby cried through the night   for instance   or their dog barking undeterred by existing strictures clearly unfixed entangled in spatial unbecoming without comfort or rest”. (30) Despite sociological or anthropological theories about the city, about human relations within and between urban spaces and the forces of history, we wonder most about our neighbours, about the creatures that inhabit our shared space, about the trees and plants that flourish or fail alongside us.

Interspersed throughout the book are sixteen haibuns. Using the prose and haiku of the haibun form to address the tree that stands outside her bedroom window, Paré writes: “… Katsura, tree of trees, you see me through my bedroom window. Years have you watched, so close I could comb my fingers through your green hair. … dusk bands the sky / barred owl / its own feathered cage” (7) and, “… Katsura, you leave yourself everywhere this time of year, nonchalant, unpinning your stems, floating into our yard, on the driveway a crisp carpet of bronze, on the hood of my car, under the wipers’ thin blades. … four fifty p.m. / day ripens / to black”. (40) In her choice of details and the intimacy of the haibun, Paré articulates beautiful private moments, as well as doubts and the sense of isolation that sometimes colour urban life. And that’s the thing about this collection. Though the focus is Earle Street, the poems are both reflective and collective. In Earle Street: Poems, Paré gives us a revelatory way to look at our own relationship to place.

Arleen Paré is a poet and writer in Victoria, B.C. She has published numerous books, including: Paper Trail (NeWest Press, 2007), Lake of Two Mountains (Brick Books, 2014), He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car (Caitlin Press, 2015), and First (Brick Books, 2021). Her work has been short-listed for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and has won the American Golden Crown Award for Poetry, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, a CBC Bookie Award, and a Governor Generals’ Award for Poetry. Her latest book, Time Out of Time: Poems (Dagger Editions, Caitlin Press) was released in February, 2022.

Earle Street: Poems
by Arleen Paré
Talonbooks, 2020, 96 p.p., $16.95
ISBN: 9781772012507

Jody Baltessen is a Winnipeg poet, writer and archivist. Her work has appeared in Hamilton Arts and Letters (HA&L), Grain, Pangyrus, Poetry Pause (League of Canadian Poets), Prairie Fire, and The New Quarterly (TNQ). She was awarded first place in the 2022 McNally Robinson Poetry contest, third place in Grain’s 2022 Short Grain Contest, Poetry, and has been shortlisted for the Gwendolyn MacEwen/Exile Poetry Prize.

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