Cold Fire: Selected Poetry by Donna Allard

For too long, the poetry genre has been overlooked here at The Miramichi Reader. It’s not because I don’t like poetry, I do, but to actually review it? I didn’t know if I had the ability to say if the poetry I was reading was good or bad. Is there even such a thing as bad poetry? Like any art form, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or the reader).

However, I knew the day would come when some poet would ask why I didn’t review poetry. Well, that day came a few weeks ago on The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award Facebook page:

Yes, that is New Brunswick’s Donna Allard, the 2019-2020 International Beat Poet Laureate. A voice I couldn’t well ignore. She assured me: “I write in the people’s poet format… so it is easy to read, and easy to read between the lines.” That sounded easy enough, so I obtained from her a copy of Cold Fire: Selected Poetry (2019 Sky Wing Press). I was impressed right away by the cover photo (by Jinn Bug) of a lone red leaf with ice along its edges. It would prove to be evocative of many of the fifty-one poems in this slim volume, including “red leaf” (which is dedicated to Jinn):

you are not
forgotten

you are cherished
like a leaf
within the pages

of my heart

Many of the poems deal with death: the loss of a loved one and the emptiness that death leaves the survivor with. Some, like “the essential other” are set in a cemetery:

there are many sweet flowers
and many stones in this garden;
the taller ones named by its dead

a crown of thorns lay hidden
beneath freshly fallen fruit
during autumn’s wind

the desire for grace is long gone,
the last rose of the season
shatters under a warm touch

Prophets’ words are captive
slaves to otherworldly gods

on a still winter’s night
the whisperings of imagination
succumb to frost

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Ms. Allard presents us with “shoot the pen not the poet” in which she angrily states:

This is who I am: a poet when I write but an uncivil
servant when I don’t. This ink is my bloodline. I have
no other children, just this, so these pages are the
truth as I know it to be. The truth often lies.

Strong stuff! The poems in Cold Fire are full of great visuals too, my favourite line being: “I am deep in thought like an ice cube half-dissolved in whisky.” (From “strolling the blues”)

As she assured me, her poems are easy to read, but the fun lies in reading between the lines. For an initial foray into the vast world of contemporary beat poetry, I couldn’t do better than Cold Fire. I will add a Poetry category to the 2020 longlist for “The Vey Best!” Book Awards and put Cold Fire there. You can read an interview by Allan Hudson with Donna Allard here at the South Branch Scribbler. Donna Allard’s books can be purchased through her website here: https://riverbonespress.wixsite.com/donnaallardpoet

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