Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman by Amanda Earl
The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman by Amanda Earl
published in an edition of 300 copies, March 1st, 2008
above/ground press, 30pp, $4 (CAN)

This particular review is as much about one's literary influences as it is about the two long poems in question. Growing up and becoming a writer in Alberta, in the early 1980s, one could not help but be influenced by the writings of Robert Kroetsch. His influence was on the wind and in the words of so many writers, it would impossible to name them all in this review. Lest to say, generations of Alberta and Western Canadian poets and fiction writers have been influenced by his works. That he has become a fully fledged Canadian literary icon is really no surprise, either, considering his wide influence upon Canadian Literature, in general. On a more personal level, though, Robert Kroetsch came to my personal rescue in September of 1990, rescuing my then Canada Council sponsored reading (at the last minute) by swearing to the CC jury the validity of the press that had published my book. Indeed, a unique gesture from a poet and writer, who up until that time, I had never once met face-to-face. Thus the unique tapestry of literary influences in the overall Canadian mosiac - the closer one looks, the more one examines, the more intriguing are the literary influences.

Case in point - Amanda Earl's The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman. In her homage to Robert Kroetsch's The Sad Phoenician, Earl's long poem reminisces about the exploits and romantic conquests of a woman who loved adverbs (in as much as she loved men) marks a striking contrast to Kroetsch's poem:

"love hurt him; don't I know how he felt; just ask me", "I, The Sad Phoenician of Love, slighted by the woman"

The poet in "The Sad Phoenician" takes on the role of cuckold, lamenting his cuckolding by the women he has known: the girl from Swift Current, the woman from Montreal, yet not once in the poem is there such a word as it applies to women. No wonder the woman from Swift Current had a thing for adverbs, like Amanda Earl. It's at this point that these two long poems begin to depart, allegorically.

In Amanda Earl's blog entry, "Experiencing Robert Kroetsch’s Poetry In A Fever", Earl confesses to writing The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman in a fever (literally, due to a flu) over three days and three nights. In the same blog she speaks of Kroetsch’s poetics of failure:

“Since the eloquence of failure may be the only eloquence remaining in this our time, I let these poems stand as the enunciation of how I came to a poet’s silence. And I like to believe that the sequence of poems, announced in media res as continuing, is, in its acceptance of its own impossibilities, completed.” - author’s note, Completed Field Notes, (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2000)

At first reading it might be easy to assume both long poems are predictable, even linear narratives - though upon closer inspection the narratives of both long poems are neither linear, nor predictable: Kroetsch’s use of the conjunctions “and” & “but” to cause a disjunction in the narrative (also borrowed by Earl in her homage) and misdirect the flow of the narrative - akin to putting a rock in the river to change the tempo and movement of the water - accomplishes this in both poems. Earl furthers this by taking excerpts of Kroetsch’s poem, in italics, into the body of her own narrative - thus alluding to an almost contextual sexual intercourse which I found most playful on Earl's part.

To anyone who has also been influenced by Kroetsch’s capacity for narrative playfulness: avoiding linear design or maps within the poem, seeking instead constant motion, unresolved transition, sudden twists, obstacles, impossibilities, possibilities, things lost, things found - all within the myriad voices of the poet's inner and outer landscape, those completed field notes collected from everything around and about us - I highly recommend Amanda Earl's The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman.


Available from:

above/ground press
c/o rob mclennan
858 Somerset Street West, main floor,
Ottawa Ontario
Canada K1R 6R7

© 2010. All reviews are solely the opinion of the reviewers at Fresh Raw Cuts.