STRANGE FITS OF BEAUTY & LIGHT: Erasure Poems from Archibald Lampman's Sonnets
By Karen Massey
above/ground press, Ottawa, ON. Dec. 2014, 24 pages (unpaginated)
Reviewed by: Ronnie R. Brown
What, you may ask, is erasure poetry? Well, it is a method of taking a poem written by another poet (in this case the late, great Archibald Lampman) then (as as stated on www.GEIST.com) "Letters, words and punctuation are removed--or erased....leaving a new stand-alone poem, one that both complements and gives new meaning to the Erasure Text."
In 2012 , Ottawa poet, Karen Massey read GEIST'S DEFININTION, entered Geist Magazine's Erasure Poetry Contest and made it to the long list (no small feat, given Geist's reputation.) The rest, as they say ,is history. Massey found erasure poetry " a diversion...a way to experiment with form." Seeing this form as similar to "a little math puzzle," she found she liked the constraint of carving something new out of a finite selection of work." Massey does not simply shrink a poem by another author but, instead, writes a number of possible pieces from a single work, then chooses the one she prefers.
In STRANGE FITS OF BEAUTY & LIGHT, Masseys second above/ground CHAPBOOK, she uses Lampman's sonnets in chronological order (as they appear in Lampman's Sonnets 1884-1899 Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1976), as her jumping off place. Massey explains that ," Each poem, including its title, is from a single Lampman sonnet , and the retained letters and words remain in the same order as the source text." Adding, "I have added punctuation and white space."
Like Lampman, Massey lives and works in Ottawa and her work has appeared in TEN OTTAWA POETS
(Chaudiere Books), and has won awards in contest such as TREE's Jane Jordan Award and the Canadian Authors Association National Capital Writing Contest . Like Lampman she is known in Ottawa writing circles, and, also like Lampmann,, given the quality of her work, she deserves a far wider audience.
The poems from this slim volume, many haiku-like in their structure ,are an interesting fusion of
past and present as in "Beloved, Moan," which states "Passion shall pass,/ Life's dull distress shall fade;/
Love's mad dreamer radio is wet green'// (Source "Perfect Love" 1885). Retaining the tone of Lampman's period and the use of upper case letters to begin each line, Massey adds a radio to the mix thus illustrating just how the fusion functions. Of course, having a copy of Lampman on hand might also help (Massey got her copy from the OPL, so it's out there), as well Massey offers scans of some of the original pieces with the erasures in place on line.
Using a form that is both fascinating and addictive (try it and you'll see), Massey sees her work on the Lampman erasures as a side project while she prepares a book-length manuscript. Given the twists and turns offered in this chapbook you can be assured that Massey's full-length collection will be both different , exciting and, as described in "Untitled" (Source: "Uplifting" 28 April, 1898), "Littered with gold dust."
RONNIE R. BROWN is an Ottawa writer. The author of six books of poetry, she has been short-listed three times for the Acorn-Plantos People's Poetry Award, winning in 2006 for STATES OF MATTER (Black Moss, 205). In 2013 she was the winner of the Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award for her long narrative poem, UN-Deferred.