Night Echoes. Ronnie Brown. Black Moss Press 2006. $15.00
Reviewed by Margaret Malloch Zielinski for Bywords.
The jet black cover with its sketchy suggestion of some possibly seedy motel sets the atmosphere for "Night Echoes", a haunting collection of poems about dreams and dreamers. These are not "day" dreams but dark echoes from the dark side of the moon; many are nightmares. "…these pieces inhabit a poignant limbo, or No Man's Land, between the lyric and the short story." (Gary Geddes)
Ronnie Brown is a well known Ottawa poet and winner of the Ray Burrell and Sandburg-Livesay poetry prizes; her third book, "Photographic Evidence" was shortlisted for the Archibald Lampman Award, 2001. "Night Echoes" is her fifth book of poetry.
The first section, "Dream Work" explores the stuff of nightmares: rape "hand/over her mouth, pulling her/down, gravel digging into the skin/ he'd exposed; cutting,bruising…"and roadkill " an ooze/of red, brown, green, grey, hanging/in the still night air/rank and heavy/as a skunk's last sigh." Children are unwilling listeners to their parent's sex, "as rhythmically she blocked/and unblocked her ears,/so that she could/hear….
Brown's bawdy sense of humour is evident throughout: a woman in an elevator,
" …picks up
where she left off,
picks up speed, words flowing one
into another as the car, unstopped by
anxious fingers prodding signal buttons,
goes down, goes
Here Brown's always deft control of rhythm and line breaks is used to create double entendre, intensifying the effect.
The second section is "Dream Fulfillment" where Brown depicts dreamers' fantasies, fantasies of lost youth when they were slim, sensuous , "wills herself/back to a warm afternoonwhen she felt/the flush of excitement on her sculpted/cheek bones, the smoothness of black silk/caressing her flawless skin…" The present is something to escape. A couple lie on the edges of a kingsized bed, "the gap/once filled by kids, pets/passion, now/a vast wasteland…" Sex is a recurring theme throughout this collection, good sex, bad sex, dream sex. A widow dreams, "Hands cup her breasts/lips kiss the nipples/(reverently like a supplicant/with a holy ring), his tongue…"
In the third section, the outside world intrudes on the dreamers, shaping their dreams, sometimes for the better, "now she is decades away:/her taffeta gown is swishing,/ and she is laughing so hard/there are tears in her eyes…" Often however, the intrusion gives rise to horrors. A former soldier fears the presence of his lover in his bed will "drag him back/to the jungle mud/where he lay for days/shielded from the enemy/by the bloating, rotting corpses/of his platoon mates."
The final section is a series of vignettes of dreamers one night in a Holiday Inn. As Gary Geddes says, "this section is not only interesting and cleverly structured, but also very evocative. It ought to serve as the basic script for a film about ghostly visitations, nocturnal emanations….a Canterbury Tales for our times "
The poems in "Night Echoes" like all Brown's work, are accessible, lusty and vivid. They make compulsive reading and may well echo for nights through your own dreams.