Following Sea, the title of Lauren Carter’s 2019 poetry collection, is a nautical term that means a boat is moving in the same direction as the waves. But it also describes a sea pushing from behind, a sea that can cause a vessel to swamp or plow under the wave just ahead—a fitting title for a work that probes family history, expectations, the weight of loss, and the ties that hold us together.
Carter opens the collection with “Historian”, a stand-alone poem that cues the reader to the through line for this collection: how expectations can be derailed or tempered by loss and grief. But also, how we move on, attuned to what is yet to come. She writes: “… I look backwards / because the future / is too hard to bear: another / bitter winter, so many / empty snares.” (6) In the three sections that follow this opening poem, “Following Sea”, “Migration”, and “Homecoming”, Carter journeys into the elemental landscape of the southeast shore of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island, a landscape overlaid with family history, and draws a deft parallel between the highland clearances in Scotland that cut loose generations of Scots from ancestral lands, and the Anishinaabe, whose lands were taken in turn. She writes: “… Three generations / after exile / from the Highlands, / the scent of Scots / pine caught like a dream / in the dust of felled / cedar, white pine wide / as the river where salmon / stitch a lineage / inside the liquid / weave. In the autumn, / of 1863, a group / of Anishinaabe / tried to stop the white / surveyors arriving / onshore …” (20, 21) Traveling through time, place and memory as through a dream, Carter shapes the details of landscape—and her family connection to it—into a foundational story of perseverance that informs the balance of the book.
The book’s final two sections, “Barren”, and “Mother’s Day”, deal tenderly with loss, healing, and the long process of coming to terms with altered expectations. The poems here, heart-rending and painful, do not shy away from the hurt of losing a child. In “Moth”, she writes of expectations, “ … The world / right then, remarkable: your life / in my body, your name, / long-chosen. Your wings, / already opening, although / we did not know.” (86) This poem is followed by “Remains”, a stark recitation of facts. She writes: “ … In the waiting room I had already turned / you out, body labouring / over a crimson slip that fell / into the toilet, sank down / like a leech. …” (87) Following these two poems—one that speaks of expectations and possibility, and one that speaks of an ending —Carter goes on to reframe the meaning of “end”, to speak instead about beginnings. She writes: “ … Here, we find / new wilderness, … All we know / right now is winter, / not yet the spring — …” (106, 107)
In this collection, Carter explores the push of expectations against the trauma of failure and loss. It is a collection that affirms love, and the solace one can find in landscape, with family and friends, through writing. Throughout the book, Carter’s gorgeous spare language navigates toward renewal, all the while running with the wind in her following sea.
Lauren Carter is a Canadian writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, as well as a creative writing coach. She is the author of several books of poetry and fiction: This Has Nothing To Do With You, Swarm, and Lichen Bright. Her work has been awarded first prize in Prairie Fire’s Fiction Contest, Room’s Poetry Contest, and long-listed for CBC’s Literary Awards. She is currently working on a short story collection due out in 2023.
by Lauren Carter
Turnstone Press, 2019, 128pp., $17.00
Jody Baltessen is a Winnipeg poet/archivist and writer. Her work is forthcoming in Pangyrus and Hamilton Arts and Letters (HA&L), has appeared in Poetry Pause (League of Canadian Poets), Prairie Fire, and The New Quarterly (TNQ), and has been shortlisted for the Gwendolyn MacEwen/Exile Poetry Prize.