Coach House Books October 2011, 96 pp. $17.95 CDN
Reviewed by: James Onusko
Poetry is not for all readers, even the most erudite and sophisticated of them, have often intimated that reading poetry is very challenging. In the end, this is true. Reading and trying to make sense of poetry, particularly excellent poetry, is no mean feat. However, I think that most readers who spend some time engaging with Leigh Kotsilidis’s poetry will find it both rewarding, stimulating and satisfying. The slim collection of poems is organized into four parts including: I) Evidence; II) Variables; III) Falsifications; and IV) Conclusions.
Kotsilidis’s poem’s have appeared in several journals and have been anthologized in a handful of publications. She was a finalist in both 2009 and 2010 for the CBC Literary Awards. Leigh’s talents are not contained to writing great poetry. She is a co-founder of littlefishcartpress. She also works as a graphic designer and lives in Montreal, Quebec.
What the author has done is use some of the core beliefs of modern science to question meaning and truth through powerful language. No genre is as taut and meaning-filled as poetry and Kotsilidis uses this to full effect. Hers is the type of poetry, like so much of the best, to be read aloud. Furthermore, I do not believe that she is offering any bold pronouncements marked by finality. In her best poems she is offering up a conversation; an invitation to enter a dialogue that views the world with wonderment and constant questioning. Science is presented more as an ongoing search based on hope vis-à-vis seeking a final destination that will guarantee unquestioned certainty.
In this poem, Chest Wounds, Kotsilidis’s skills are in full display as she explores some of her major themes:
First there is a flutter.
Not wings or eyelashes,
but a flap of unhinged skin.
What gapes? What gasps?
Not wound, windpipe, or gash,
but lesions of men on a gauzy path.
Blades clank, clash, until shafts
sink in - a slowing, a lag, a yawn
as brains spawn panic.
Men stop, drop in their spots,
roll shirts into cotton batting,
tighten ponytails into tourniquets,
contort their torsos and limbs
into rocks resembling the dead.
When certain their enemy has fled,
toss their losses to the wind.
Not as seeds, words or hymns,
but overripe cherries, split to pits.
Unfortunately, as with all poetry written in the last 40 years or so, much of this collection will go unread. I find it fascinating and contradictory in many ways that many critics and observers argue that the majority of people no longer have the attention spans to read like we did collectively, say a century ago, yet literature is much more accessible than in the past. An interesting exercise it to try reading some literature from the early nineteenth century, and you will be struck by how long the paragraphs and sentences were in most texts. Epic poems are almost impossible to find in the twenty-first century. In this context, it would seem that post-structural poetry would be welcomed by readers in that most contemporary poems are rarely more than a page and many collections can be read in a handful of hours at most.
Kotsilidis’s poetry is the kind of writing that provides an opportunity, a gateway, to returning to poetry as a reader. She has chosen to tackle some of our grandest questions and infuses the writing with humour, questioning and compassion. There is not a lot to criticize in this collection. At times, I believe she could have lengthened certain poems and explored certain paths even more than she does. I can appreciate the open-endedness of some of the poems and I understand that that is precisely the point at times. Additionally, she includes some excellent introductions where she offers anecdotes from other writers such as John Hutchins and I think she could have done this even more as in all instances they fitted brilliantly with the rest of the poem.
This is a beautiful collection of poetry. While many readers, particularly those that do not read a lot of poetry will find it challenging, at times, to read, I believe that everyone who picks up the collection and decides to be open to it will find it well worth the effort. Kotsilidis is a brilliant writer and we should all hope that there is far more to come from her in the near future.
*A copy of Hypotheticals was sent to me to read and review. It was not purchased.