A review of Woodshedding by S. E. Venart

Published on October 1, 2007

S. E. Venart

Brick Books

S. E. Venart’s debut collection, Woodshedding, is good but shows a narrow range, with an emphasis on the confessional mode. The title of the book can refer, she tells us, to spontaneous singing, to “arduous and solitary rehearsal,” or to a shed where parental thrashings were administered. The figurative thrashings in this collection are often self-administered, but the poems in the second section, which deals with family dysfunction, show the pain that a relationship with a difficult mother and a defeated father can create for children. The family poems impress by their restraint: painful feelings are all the more powerful here for being understated, forced into tight stanzas. The strongest poem is probably “Breathe,” which uses both Buddhist and medical terms to describe the death of a parent. The ending is strong: “And when you’ve fallen from me, I’ll think / it’s phenomenal, / how the low sound in my walls / is still you, / that whistle call / bringing me home.”

Many of the poems in Woodshedding put the narrator in the desperate position of the swallow she described with deep empathy in “Waiting for the T,” a bird trapped under the glass ceiling of Harvard Square Station, flying up to collide with a barrier it cannot understand. But of course the poet understands. Two substantial poems in the first part of the book add to the growing list of works by Canadian poets who have resided at the retreat centre at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. Perhaps it is time for an anthology. Venart’s debut is impressive: her singing is arduous but not, in spite of the opening quotation, spontaneous. In art, spontaneity can be overvalued, whatever Jack Kerouac thought. mRb

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



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