Donna Langevin’s BRIMMING reviewed by Marsha Barber

Donna Langevin, Brimming, Piquant Press 2019, 119pp, I.S.B.N. 9781927396155 

Donna Langevin’s wonderful new book casts a spell. Here’s a writer who isn’t just an accomplished poet, but a master storyteller. Her sense of narrative is pitch perfect. She’s also a superb imagist. In this beautiful volume from Piquant Press, you’ll find poems steeped in the fragility and wonder of life. The book is divided into six sections. Part one focuses on the poet’s brother who is “no longer the brat/ who snipped off/my doll’s eyelashes”. Now she blesses her brother’s home, opens the windows to let in “the hymn of the wind/caressing treetops and ferns”.  More urgently, after a heart condition, the poet blesses her brother’s veins: “May their blood sing clearly,/ glow like ripe strawberries”. The same sense of the fragility of life is present in the heartbreaking and life-affirming section of the book where the poet deals with a son’s heart attack: “Do anything/except dying.” As uncertainty roils around her, the poet howls: “My love, my darling child,/ hope rips me open like birth”.  The reader shares the relief of the son’s eventual recovery: “Because your blue lips turned pink,/ I bloom with your gift shop roses.” As someone who has been obsessed for years by Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, I particularly like the section of the book which imagines the inner life of Niagara Falls daredevils. As Taylor anticipates the event, her “stomach churns white water.”  In contrast to a briny death in a barrel, Taylor remembers her time in Mexico and wishes her last breath would be “scented/with juniper and sage/ from the mountains”. Another daredevil, Charles G. Stephens, isn’t as lucky. After his failed attempt to survive the Falls, his hand reaches out of his barrel evocatively trapped “in sleeves of white water”. The theme of the fragility of life, and the power of love to sustain loved ones, pervades this book. A lover eats a white diet during radiation and lives a pale existence. In contrast, the poet writes: “I exercise in sunlight/to gain strength to sustain you/with love in every colour.” A powerful section named “The Thing in the Mirror” deals with the aftermath of a fall. This time it’s the poet who is supported by a lover: “he holds my hand and whispers/ ”You are still lovely to me.” Particularly striking are the poet’s recollections of the drive home from hospital, post-op, noticing the beauty of the world: “The day steps out from a golden cloud/softer than a fawn.” In the final section, we are reminded that the “stories that write us”, the stories of our lives, “flesh out their plots /in our bloodstreams and bones”.  Just so, you will feel the authenticity and power of this book in your bloodstream and bones. This is a book that reminds me powerfully of the reasons I turn to poetry. Moving, playful and wise, this is a work to savour. It’s a wonderful offering by a poet at the top of her game. 

To order your copy, send $24 ($20 + $4 p&h) payable to Donna Langevin, #313 – 39 Parliament St., Toronto, Ont. M5A 4R2.

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