Sarah de Leeuw’s Skeena

Perhaps I should cop to my ulterior motive in doing this series.

I am a person who will spend her last dollar on a book. I have a house full of books, a number of them unread, and yet it’s difficult for me to attend a conference or a reading without coming home with … more books.

You know that expression, “like a kid in a candy store.” You can now amend that to, “Like a poet at a book sale.” My ulterior motive, then, is to finally create a good reason to actually read these books all the way through. I bring them home with the best of intentions, and I usually read a poem or two before they find their way to my shelf. Maybe I take them down now and then and read a little more. But I have a bad habit of not taking the time to them all the way through. So that, my friends, is what I’m doing.

Reading Sarah de Leeuw‘s Skeena (Caitlin Press, 2015) was, as with the other books, a surprise and a pleasure. It is not at all the sort of poetry I aspire to write; nonetheless, it had lessons for me in how one might think differently about what a poem is, and what it looks like.

Skeena is a book-length poem about the Skeena, the second-largest river in British Columbia. Leeuw is an award-winning Canadian poet, but she also has a Ph.D. in Geology, and the book is a collage of voices and textures, incorporating photographs, First People’s stories, the voice of the river, geologic time and details, and newspaper accounts. The book is not tidy, divided into ragged sections, and often exploding all over the pages, kind of like a river at floodtime. In addition to the artfulness of the poem’s execution, the dust jacket is a work of art. (Designed and hand screen printed by Briar Craig). Skeena was a finalist for the Willa Literary Award: Women Writing the West.

To hear part of Sarah de Leeuw’s interview with Cascadia Poetry Festival organizer Paul Nelson, including a reading of “Rain” (one of the most experimental of the sections) from Skeena, click here.

The blog does not accommodate poems (not easily) that are choreographed, so I’m going to cheat and share a picture. This is a book I would love to pass along to someone worthy, so let me know if you are interested.

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