Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PALAEONTOLOGY FOR BEGINNERS by Helen Patrice























I've been waiting impatiently for this book! It is all I hoped and more.

Here is my review. It is also my Introduction to the book, which I was honoured to be asked to contribute.

This book is well titled. Helen Patrice is good at digging below the surface to turn up the bones of the past. She is good at fitting the fragments together to create illuminating pictures and stories. She digs deep, and brings it all out into the light. From memory and hindsight she creates insight, and shares it with us in ways that make it both warmly familiar and startlingly new. Above all, she engages our emotions.

We met through poetry decades ago and became lifelong friends. We have found many things in common, not least our love and respect for each other's poetry. I've seen Helen's writing mature into the confidence and power she exhibits here. The originality of her voice was always there.

I think she's a master of metaphor, e.g.

The year turns over in bed,
ready to become dark,
sleek with fat,
marinating itself deep within,
while its bare bones of oak and willow
beg the sun to return.

That's typical of her command of language — heightened and musical while at the same time clear and accessible. These poems don't put on airs, or yell, "Look at me, I'm so clever!" They're beyond clever: they are deep, brilliant, and totally authentic, whether she is writing of sexual desire, mothering an autistic son, or waxing humorous about her cats. She does humorous very well, by the way, as readers of her columns in Nova will recall, and has no trouble marrying it with the serious. (And yes, the verse I've quoted is a mixed metaphor, if you like — but not in a careless, messy way. Instead it's a progression, a segue from one image to the next, deliberate and effective, carrying the reader along with it.)

She can be uncompromisingly realistic too, as in

I catch my reflection.
Head to foot loose mismatched green,
with unintended bustle,
hair awry,
wild eyes.
My poetry writing look.

While Helen's poignant verse novel, A Woman of Mars, is one of my favourite reads, I've long wished she would compile a more representative collection of her poems. I'm delighted and honoured to have been asked for this introduction to the strong book she has produced.

-- Rosemary Nissen-Wade
poet, editor, writing workshop facilitator, and former publisher


My regular readers at this and other blogs will know that Helen Patrice and I are friends — a friendship which began through poetry. I would just like to make the point that I am not waxing enthusiastic about her poetry just because I am her friend. On the contrary, one of the many reasons I am her friend is because I am so enthusiastic about her poetry.

It's a beautiful production physically, too. The publisher has done justice to Helen's brilliant work. The book is available from Amazon.

2 comments:

  1. This brings back memories because I went through a paleontology phase as a youngster (as I suppose we all do lol). Sometimes I still wish I had taken that path :)

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    1. Yes, perhaps we all do to some extent. I certainly flirted with the notion. The whole idea of it so captures the imagination of a child, doesn't it? In Helen's book it's metaphorical of course, but even so, her title poem recounts the effects of just such childhood fascination.

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