1926 Bereavement, ‘impeccably expressed’

After That
by Lorna Crozier

Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 2023
$22.95 / 9780771004285

Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore

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Language was Lorna Crozier’s consolation when her partner of forty years, Patrick Lane, was ill with “strange symptoms, which side-stepped any diagnosis.” The result was Through the Garden: A Memoir (with Cats). After Lane died in 2019, Crozier began editing a collection of poems Lane had left behind, published as The Quiet in Me.

Saanich area resident Crozier sees this new book of poetry, After That, “as a companion piece to the memoir and to Patrick’s posthumous poems. In my mind the books comprise a trilogy that I believe he’d be pleased to be a part of.” The book’s dedication reads: “With love, for my husband, Patrick Lane, b. March 26, 1939, d. March 7, 2019.”

“If the heart could write, it would write poetry,” Crozier says in the intro to her video entitled “The Call: Poetry Out of Silence.” It seems the heart did write the gems included in this gorgeous collection as well as whatever parts of one’s being that suffer loss and open to emptiness and what may be realized there.

Crozier’s favourite poem is “Parcel.” She said as much at a poetry retreat she led and which I attended in the spring of 2023. She’s think’s it’s her best. It’s not pretending to be other than what it is. The speaker is bare and vulnerable:

 

In the bag I carry from the crematorium
you weigh more than the heart of a horse.
How do I know how much that is?
I don’t, but I say to myself,
You weigh more than the heart of a horse.

 

That vulnerability is evident throughout After That; the unarmed rawness, impeccably expressed, is what draws us closer. Readers may recall a bereavement of their own; and others feel the loss of this particular brilliant writer, Patrick Lane, by this passionate, articulate partner and poet, who illuminates sorrow through meticulously chosen words.

Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane (photo: Rafal Gerszak)

“Let There be Angels” is a poem that allows readers to witness a dying man as his partner talks to him “between kisses.” The “machine” has been turned off and we read of exquisitely painful final moments in a liminal space between worlds and states of being. Readers are privileged to witness such intimate moments.

“Adagio On The Day of Your Birthday, Three Weeks After You Died” is filled with reminiscences with the speaker addressing the departed with, “Do you remember in our first house, / Regina, Cathedral Avenue, the window open –.” There were sounds of a cat walking on piano keys, a dog who “barked at everything” and a “tuxedo cat” who added percussion with his claws:

 

This was years ago. I hold these sounds in a shadow chamber
in my inner ear where I hold your voice, the sshush
of your last breath, your slippers across the carpet,
the shuffle, and the pause, and the not going on.

 

After That is divided into sections that feature epigraphs from poems in the collection. The first epigraph is: “Take on another language, an alphabet of bone and sinew and / grit. Chew the gristle and learn by heart the songbook’s oldest / song before you try to speak his name.”

Author Lorna Crozier

The lines are from the beginning of “Seven Ways to Keep on Going.” They remind me of a wonderful poem of Crozier’s titled “Packing for the Future: Instructions” from What the Living Won’t Let Go. The earlier poem (particularly poignant to me as I heard Patrick Lane read it) contains the lines: “In your bag leave room for sadness, / leave room for another language.”

In Through the Garden, Crozier wrote about the prescience of poetry: “I discovered in my mid-twenties, when I began writing and publishing, that poems are more prescient than any fortune teller.” We could say, the poem knew more than the writer of it, knew there would be a time for another, perhaps personally invented, language of loss.

“Field Guide to Silence” is a poem that comes out of silence, as poems do, and is filled with the silence of white space. What might be lurking there? Can we bear that cold silence? Crozier writes:

 

Those childish
angels in the drifts,
                          footless, with such blunt wings?

What you remember most,
               is their muteness, all in a row.

 

Stanzas of imagined possibilities, whimsical while also heartbreaking, make up “How Did He Die?” “We went together” is noted twice, and the second time,

 

It was a dream and we
both awakened, the five cats
we’d loved over forty years
restless in the bed.
One of us had to get up and feed them.
One of us couldn’t be dead.

 

There are some new “Instructions” (after filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini), a poem that begins with “Loneliness: you must be strong to live / with it, take it into your bed….” The speaker walks on her own, buys a “single lamb chop,” and reads a favourite passage “to the no one who is there.” The final stanza leaves readers with:

 

. . . begin the prayer that opens into silence
                            and ends with silence
and silence in between.

 

More instructions to self come in the form of “Seven Ways to Keep on Going” followed by Six, Five, Four, Three and “Two Ways To Keep On Going.” Creatures of the natural world inhabit the stanzas of the poem series: a mute swan, insects, a snow goose, an Egyptian mare, crows, goats, a heron, a turtle, a garter snake, and an owl.

A reflection on “the hawk and owl feathers he found in the fields and kept in a / jar on his desk” is blended with the practical, “Learn to drive the lawn tractor,” and the transformative magic of metaphor: “Build a House of Snow, a House of Memories, a House of Safe-Keeping, a House of Flutes.”

“Seven Ways to Keep on Going” shows some lightness too: “Sleep on both sides of the bed. Confuse the cat.”

References are made to light and darkness, such as in “Six Ways” in which Federico Garcia Lorca is quoted:

 

Repeat after Lorca, “Light doesn’t know what it wants.” But its
opposite does. Darkness wants the spark you’ve carried since
your birth to illuminate its path. Otherwise, no matter where it
goes, it can’t find its way.

 

The speaker in “Two Ways To Keep on Going” has found some buoyancy in observing how, like snow, “water falls without breaking.” And:

 

Watch how your cut hair falls to the floor and you lift your head.
Your friends say how young you look.
Look how light falls upon you and doesn’t break.

 

The expectancy continues with “Three More Ways to Keep on Going,” which includes the advice: “Invent a new religion based entirely on light.” There is such promise in the final line: “In such a religion, even the dead immortally shine.”

Towards the end of the book readers will find “Before You Know What Love Is.” A line of thought continues from the title: “You must lose it, you must walk into a room / and he won’t be there, not ever….”

Is there “One Way To Keep On Going”? Yes. The last poem, with that title, advises: “Apply to be the Minister / of the Ministry of Loneliness.” There are specific qualifications required and

 

…. There is a space at the end of the job
application to add a personal touch. For instance, you could say
that from the front porch you watched the last person who will
love you walking into the woods in falling snow. The stars were
falling too. The birch trees, white as bones, stepped forward
to take him in.

 

In her Acknowledgements, Crozier writes: “It was a blessing to share a good part of my life with this special man and brilliant writer. I see now that such a writing companionship continues after death. These poems, I hope are a testament to love’s everlastingness.” She thinks too of others who are bereaved and hopes that her poems “strike a match that will be visible in the darkness that the bereaved, whoever they may be, must travel through. “

Lorna Crozier has generously shared her own bereavement, unsparingly, in poems that have come out of a profound loss, a much deeper than the usual silence.

 

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Mary Ann Moore is a poet, writer and writing mentor who lives on the unceded lands of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo. Her full-length book of poetry is Fishing for Mermaids (Leaf Press, 2014) and she has a new chapbook of poems called Mending (house of appleton). Moore leads writing circles and has two writing resources: Writing to Map Your Spiritual Journey (International Association for Journal Writing) and Writing Home: A Whole Life Practice (Flying Mermaids Studio). She writes a blog here. [Editor’s note: Mary Ann Moore has also reviewed books by Katherine Palmer Gordon, Donna McCart Sharkey & Arleen Paré, Michelle Poirier Brown, and Celia Haig-Brown, Garry Gottfriedson, Randy Fred, & the KIRS Survivors for BCR.]

 

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The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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