Alert to Glory, Sally Ito
2011, Turnstone Press, Winnipeg MB
$17, 978-0-88801-379-8, 86 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
To handcuff the world, make it prisoner to sense and scrutiny.
To apprehend. That is the poet’s task. The lonely jailer
seizing at the company of things. Not to possess or own
but rather to perceive the world like a nerve quickening
to touch, or a flank quivering to the wind. To apprehend
is surely one of God’s commandments to the steward, that poet,
who in his hour as policeman might enjoy the brief moment
of a world in fetters for him. Catch-and-release—the finny,
slippery silver underneath the hand—is the currency of joy,
the fine paid for the alertness and watching which is the poet’s
constant state. He apprehends, and the world is seized
and God makes wonder of his heart.
From Winnipeg writer Sally Ito comes a fourth trade book and third poetry collection, Alert to Glory (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2011), constructed as both acknowledgement of and call to “alertness and watching which is the poet’s / constant state.” With poems featured in the anthologies Poets 88 (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1988) and Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1996), Ito is the author of the previous poetry collections Frogs in the Rain Barrel (Nightwood, 1995) and Season of Mercy (Nightwood, 1999), as well as a collection of short fiction, Floating Shore (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1998). The poems in Alert to Glory work to articulate a space where poetry and the author’s religious faith meets poetry, in poems that attempt to articulate the notions of faith and their strengths, including a sequence of “Poems for Advent: A Series.” In the piece “Poets out of Stones,” she begins: “God can make poets out of stones. And He has. / Witness this one.” In meditative stretches, Ito explores meaning throughout, from Bible passages, pregnancy, literary ambition and mundane day-to-day tasks, including waiting for her tomatoes to grow, writing “My eyes await their transformation, as God must / in looking on, pure light affixing to each fruit / as if on a sparrow, a hair on the head […].”
In Ito’s exploration of the sacred and the divine, there are some good moments here, but nothing as sharp as the pieces within, say, the work of the late Margaret Avison. There is an ease to Ito’s poems, but one that lacks tightness, revealing too many lines that lack tension, and yet, one of the strongest pieces here, “Pregnant Again,” writes the divine as a secondary idea to the poem, with tight lines that meander thoughtfully, with a still and graceful ease. There aren’t that many writing overtly Christian poems that I’m aware of, although Vancouver’s Diane Tucker and Waterloo, Ontario’s Erin Noteboom immediately spring to mind, as well as Margaret Avison, who is referenced within Alert to Glory. It’s a delicate territory, and one that often shies away from contemporary writing. What place has personal religious faith in contemporary North American literature? A larger question than this review has space for, certainly, and not a question I’d even know how to begin to approach, let alone answer.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com