Poetry review: Lorna Crozier’s Small Mechanics

Flickr: Snoshuu
Flickr credit: Snoshuu

As kids my sisters and I used ice-cubed apple juice and clothespins to make popsicles we hoped to sell by the road. At first we had no real method of cracking the pins in two. Eventually, though, we learned to gently pull their backs apart and slide the wooden portions free from the grip of the spring.  The mechanics mattered—we needed to master them in order to both break and to create.

The poems in Lorna Crozier’s collection, Small Mechanics, capture such sensible motions of everyday objects, from onions bouncing in a curved basket to meadow seeds that catch in the sock. She plucks poetry from life’s sensory logic; she pays attention—this I knew when I read her book’s epigraph, a verse from its title poem: “I want a poet who goes outside, / Who knows the small mechanics /of the clothespin and the muddy boot.”

But Crozier is not concerned with recording matters of physics for their own sake. Her poetic ‘mechanics’ celebrate the living—the creatures and people who work, feel, play, and age in our world of working parts.

Many poems explore memory and grief as they are carried in objects and actions, with Crozier’s dead parents a common presence. In “What Comes Next,”  for example, she recalls scenes from her childhood on a prairie home.: “At supper, the fish fried in butter, / [my mother] fingers through my portion for the thin / white slivers that could catch my breath / No one’s ever loved me better (70).  Grief perplexes her—especially its ability to inhabit the natural world. When she imagines the afterlife in “My Father, Face to Face,” she wonders if “We’ll feel no more/than wind, than grass,” adding: “though sometimes / both to me seem full of sorrow.”

Yet there’s playfulness in this collection, too—silliness, even, thanks to Crozier’s lyrical wit. She enchants the most commonplace occasions. A typo sparks a short but clever work of tragicomedy (“Grief Resume”). In “My Last Erotic Poem” she teases tenderness from the strange, awkward oft-dreaded tolls of age—“old bodies doing what you know / bodies do, worn and beautiful and shameless” (28-29). She knows her way around the mechanics of amusement, using them to break embarrassment into play.

Not all poets can effectively bring to life the minuscule and magnificent in the one collection. But Crozier does—organically, originally, brilliantly. Whether she’s pondering the olfactory organs on an ant’s antenna or observing “The Ambiguity of Clouds”, even her repeated images and odd turns of phrase speak freshly of familiar truths.  Yes, she uses moon imagery often—she is aware, however, of the sentimentality risked, as evidenced in the “Night Walk” line:  “The moon’s so tired of metaphor, it wants / no more of human longing” (11-12). Similarly, in “What Holds You,” she revives the common observation of everything in youth seeming small by noting: “The sky’s / the only childhood thing / that isn’t smaller / than you remember it” (10-13). Cliche she is not.

It’s tempting to say Crozier has a Psalmist’s attention to all things great and small. Some may dislike such a description, however, as she is not (to my knowledge) an artist who ascribes to a particular religion. Still, I do sense in her an undercurrent of and respect for spirituality. Some stems from her imagery of angels and the multiple the narratives of Eden. To me, though, these don’t encapsulate Crozier’s value to the Christian reader. This lies in her eye for describing the created so that it sings with the possibility of a loving and inventive creator. “A swarm of dragonflies! So intricate and golden, / surely a watchmaker assembled their parts / to give his children a lighter, leaner sense of time” (1-3) she says in “Holy One”. She reminds me that even the most minuscule mechanics reveal the handiwork of holiness–and that, for some, they may do so even more evocatively than the vast and magnificent.

Crozier scouts for beauty eagerly and, upon finding it, celebrates both its logic and its mystery. I believe this posture is the best gift she has to offer her reader—especially the reader that shares her desire to creatively take life great and small to the page. This collection—Crozier’s sixteenth book of poetry—proves she is a master of language’s mysterious mechanics, and a writer deserving of her status as one of the most well-read poets in Canada.

(Originally published in The Christian Courier. Reprinted with permission.)

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