Cast from Bells

Cast from Bells

By Bert Almon

A review of Cast From Bells by Suzanne Hancock

Published on March 1, 2010

Cast From Bells
Suzanne Hancock

McGill-Queen's University Press
$$16.95
paper
72pp
978-0773537200

Suzanne Hancock’s Cast from Bells was inspired by one of the great radio documentaries of our time, Peter Leonhard Braun’s “Bells in Europe,” about Hermann Goering’s plan to melt down all the bells of Europe, some 80,000, except for ten in Germany. The best poems in the book concern this act of vandalism – bells cut from the sky to make weapons – and convey a great deal about the construction, naming, and other folklore of bells. The “Holy Ghost Bell” in Strasbourg, to use one vivid example, was never rung except when there were two fires in the city at once.

Bells symbolize human beings in various ways: they have lips and tongues and bellies, they sing, and they sound when struck. Hancock uses the bells of Europe as metaphors for a troubled relationship, which creates a problem of proportion: war in Europe and a faltering love are not perfectly congruent. The poet effectively conveys reconciliation and renewal, however, by describing the transformation of munitions back into bells at the end of the war. This is a brilliant conceit, adding one stage to the Biblical formula: ploughshares beaten into swords, swords turned back to ploughshares. In place of titles, the poems are headed with rather phallic bullets or shells, and these perhaps anticipate the transformation of destruction into fecundity.

One of the best poems has no bell imagery at all but uses the blind dolphins of the Ganges as a way of talking about the awkward dealings of people with each other: the dolphins rely on sonar in their tentative relations with each other. This poem and several others make it clear that Hancock is not just a poet who hit on a lucky formula through the story of the bells of Europe: she has metaphorical reach of her own. The formal variety of the book and the richness of the language make this a strong collection. She can spread lines in patterns over a page; she can also write a good sonnet. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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