Well, I have and I haven’t! Oh, this is so confusing! One of my literary goals on my bucket list is to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean and then write a poem about it. I don’t know when I will get there but about three months ago I started reading a poetry book that not only made me feel like I was already splashing through the salty waves in my rubber boots but that I needed to pack up my fishing nets and head to the east coast today and for real! Ready or not, here I come! Books can do that, transport me to locations I have never seen and may never get to in person. My apologies for the late review, long overdue but I was hoping to polish up my French for the trip. That’s on my bucket list too!!
FROM SHORE TO SHOORMAL
At first glance, From Shore to Shoormal could easily be described as a poetic travelogue where images of the Atlantic Ocean mesmerize the readers and lure them onto fishing vessels and along barren shorelines where the “high-spirited” raven keeps a watchful eye. In the poem “Treasure Hunt” the instructions are to “Get your map out”… “never lose sight of your compass”…and “Feel the last wave, follow the sun.”… For those who are unfamiliar with the coastal fringe of Acadia’s Shediac Bay and the shoormal of Shetland Islands, U.K., this book nudges individuals into the salt taste, damp fog, fishy scent and rugged characteristics of these two regions.
However, this collection of 25 bilingual poems by New Brunswick poet Donna Allard and Shetland-based poet and visual artist Nat Hall is more than just another geography lesson. As stated on the back cover this 72-page book is a celebration of the Atlantic connection between two voices: the persona of Allard’s acadianrose cresting like ocean waves in “From Shore” the first section of the book and Hall’s nordicblackbird flying strong in the second part dedicated “To Shoormal”.
While the cover image (Hall’s photo ‘vagabond mood’) appears stark and gloomy, it sets a melancholy tone for the poetic landmarks within.
For example, Acadia’s rich history unfolds as relic puzzle pieces and unearthed memories in Allard’s introductory poem “War Musket Grass (Bay of Fundy) where “they swear the land still smells of powder.” In “Northwest Passage”, the “mornin’ boats dot the water like fag butts” and the “morning sun zips its warm jacket and leaves”. The couplets in this poem and the metaphors throughout this section of the book are like the waves in the ocean, lapping the shore at a steady rhythm. The writing is tight and Allard often uses haunting words when describing the fisherman’s life, beer, his wife’s isolation, “icicled telephone wires”, “ghost ships that/appear at sunset” and eyes either “shipwrecked on déjà vu” or a “glassy reflection of dark tides”.
It is not an easy journey. As Allard states, “There’s not a road on this isle that does not bleed/from shore to shore.” Yet, Pablo’s poetic influence abounds “along the apple pathways of every heart in love.” In another poem, she writes “this memory shall live within me/until that sweet season when we meet again.” Death and love are common themes: “I drown, in the beauty that only the Bay of Fundy can offer.”
In the second section of the book, once the reader is seamlessly transported across the ocean, Hall resumes the Atlantic tour using the image of the raven and the wind in many of her poems. The writing is often gritty, sometimes gentle, written mainly in the first person point of view and is accessible to the general public. However expect some unique twists and turns of phrases. In her poem “On the Tip of My Heart” she taunts the reader “go ask the bird what it feels like inside the gale.” Hall explores the “Lady Mist”, “water washed words”, the turbulent storms of the Atlantic and the lighthouse beacon. In “The Tales from the Tides” she experiments with an acrostic riddle and later humours the audience with the unexpected language of canned fish. One of the most memorable lines of the book appears in the poem “Harva” where Hall states, “I taste the sea…I’m still drinking the Atlantic/like a long shot of/tequila.”
While both sections of the book are written in a free-style format, the addition of French translations and Shetland dialect provides a cultural echo and textured layer to the original English work. As Hall writes in the English version of her closing poem, “I love this sudden switch of tongue/sur toutes les lèvres du St, Laurent!/Now I feel home on either side of the Atlantic.”
Whether the reader is French or English speaking, it is not necessary to be bilingual to appreciate the depth of emotion and multi-layers of meaning in these poem treasures. Rather, here is a book that dares people to step outside their boundaries, to take a closer look and celebrate these strong voices that make the Atlantic coast so special.
For additional “official” information about the book, click here.