By Dani Couture
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Poets have a certain comraderie. We know what it is to sit, read, write, and get no respect. We are writers of a genre that has been forgotten, is taught for one week in high school, and maybe gets a page in a magazine. So, we support one another.
This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting Beth Follet, owner of Pedlar Press, at an independent book fair held in downtown Toronto. As I looked at the books on her table she commented on my black t-shirt that has the words STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN written in red. After a short conversation about my shirt, writing, her books, and our shared politics, she gave me a copy of SWEET by Dani Couture.
“I don’t know if my editor wants a review of this. Maybe you should wait until I get the OK and then you can send me a copy,” I said.
“No. Take it. I want you to have it,” she said.
SWEET had not even hit bookstores yet. My politics got me a sweet deal; pun intended.
I realized afterward why Beth Follet gave me the book. It wasn’t because I freelance for XTRA!. It wasn’t because I am a young poet as is Dani Couture. It was because my shirt let her know that Couture writes about life and political things in a subtle way that gets you thinking.
SWEET is a small collection that spans 68 pages. Most of the poems are short. And the cover is real cute: pink lines with white letters and a teddy bear in the top right hand corner. You want to pick the book up immediately. I even thought about biting it.
Taking four years to write SWEET, many of the poems featured in what is Couture’s second collection have appeared in Canadian journals such as Exile Quarterly, Taddle Creek, and This Magazine. The first poem in the collection, Union Station, received second place in This Magazine’s 2007 Great Canadian Literary Hunt and was featured in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008.
Split in three sections “Lurch”, “Trudge, Groan”, and “Leap”, there is something in SWEET for everyone.
Reservoirs took me back to the time when my mom was diagnosed with Lymphoma. The cold hospital waiting rooms, the talks to pass the time with others waiting to hear news of their loved ones, the wait, those desperate waits, and the many things you notice as a result of those painful, solitary times.
Couture so cleverly describes some of the things she noticed:
“salt in palliative care
harder to find than cures”
They are two short lines that speak so much. Whether you are critical of our health care system, a conspiracy nut, a fence sitter, or someone who has not thought about such things because you haven’t had to sit in waiting a room wondering about a loved one, Couture gets you thinking, even questioning how far we have come, and how far we need to go in terms of the decline of our health care system thanks to the foresight or our ‘genius’ white politicians, and finding cures for the many deadly sicknesses we are falling to.
War Games, my favorite in the collection, took me back to my youth. I remembered playing in the backyard and the ravines surrounding my area, and the many movies that I did not understand at the time: Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and The Deer Hunter.
Films that were a critique of war inspired Couture, myself, and thousands of other kids to emulate uniformed murder:
“Those times outside North Bay
we play Apocalypse Now
under the wooden raft—
a whole world fatigued
and a fist full of quotes:
I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
It smells like victory.”
And we wonder why we have problems?
Sweet, the title poem in the collection is truth. As I age I am more and more critical of our education system. Teachers I know all have students way below the required reading level; racism continues to be taught in our schools; and I can sadly say I’ve only had a handful of teachers whom I learned from and whom I truly respect.
Couture starts with a powerful line:
Children, here are the crayons you need to correct the stories.
The poet urges us to shake loose all the lies we have been taught. She’s not only talking to the little people, she’s talking the inner children found in adults. Couture urges big and small to find their own way, to resist and counter the untruths taught in school: racism, sexism, homophobia, and all their cousins.
I don’t understand everything Couture writes about. Some stuff just didn’t swallow; what did go down was as sweet as cake.
Thanks to Beth Follet for giving BCP a copy of “SWEET”.
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Wednesday December 15, 2010 for an inclusive interview with Dani Couture.