Poetry Review: Fahner, Kim. These Wings. Pedlar Press, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 2019.
Full disclosure on two counts: (1) I have zero poetry expertise, and (2) the images that accompany this collection (a striking magpie, gazing skyward, and smooth, speckled, oval bird eggs) drew me in before I had read a word. As a professor who studies bird behaviour and ecology, I am enthralled by all things winged… but would the poetry engage me?
Kim Fahner’s words depict a fierce love of Canadiana, of northern environments, culture, words and art, blended into a cohesive ode to natural beauty. Birds are a recurring presence though not the dominant theme… for me, the fluttering of wings was like a companion on the journey through familiar natural and cultural landscapes, stirring the air and weaving a new spell. Throughout my reading, done in pockets of stolen time over a month, I was captivated by the spare yet evocative words. They drew me in and lit my heart afire with homesickness, from the humid south where I sit and write.
It is clear to me why Fahner would have been bestowed the honour of being Sudbury’s poet laureate. Her wordcraft is masterful, painting vivid images with the fewest of words, conjuring a feeling while leaving a shroud of mystery with her light touch. In describing a red fox as bearing “tail feathered as painted wings”, she made that tail dance in my mind. She stopped me with this powerful image: “January thaw and the rocks undress”. One of my favourite poems, The Lake Belongs to Us, inspires promise, echoing my life-long residency along the shores of Lake Ontario from its very ends, to the sea: “...reaching out towards the St. Lawrence, where it gives itself up”.
Fahner includes subtitles to some of her poems, and author notes at the end of the collection. I found this an effective device because it allowed for digging deeper into her inspirations and the broader context of her work. For me it deepened the impact of the poems and opened additional lines of reflection about her subject matter.
In my journey through the forty-three poems, I appreciated the wandering from Yellowknife to Ontario’s North to the Carolinian South and back again, versus a typical (wearying) east-versus-west tension of Canadian dynamics. At certain points I became a bit lost in the economy of words and variety of subject matter, uncertain of the writer’s intent or connection. That is probably more due to my inexperience with poetry as a form. Then last week, during a parallel reading of my son’s bedtime story, I was reminded that the origin of the English word “pen” is the Latin pinna for feathers and wings, from the quills used as early writing instruments. I smiled at the thought of Fahner using modified feathers to write poems inspired by feathers. Yes, I am engaged. Overall, what I take away from her words is a sensibility of textured northern imagery and geography: if you need an escape to the north, or just a rush of fresh air, give yourself up to These Wings.