To Measure the World by Karen Shenfeld

In To Measure the World, Karen Shenfeld confronts the chimerical nature of love — erotic, domestic, familial — and its power to sustain and harm.

The title alone grabbed me, a peripatetic pull akin to the tug of backpack straps on shoulders. Where I write there’s a map of the world on a wall – stylized, artistic – an interpretation of reality. Same as any story, photo, memory, or poem. Karen Shenfeld’s book of poetry, To Measure the World, is itself an interpretation of reality: concise, bordering on brief, what I feel every poem should strive for, in much the same manner reduction improves a culinary sauce. Less becomes more with patience, time, and care.

From the get-go, patience and care are established, setting a wanderer’s emotional bar. This, from We All Come from Africa:

“Look to the Southern Cross.” / He lay you down then, / The Cape of Good Hope, / a pillow for your head.

While discussing humanity, commonality, the analogy remains a traveller’s gently turning globe, geographic points our metaphors. Together we descend to ground, caressing the surface, or surfaces. From Companion Poem:

He floats you supine on the sea. Your body, // a small island, strangely / human. With compass and quadrant, / he comes to know you

And from raw experience we join our author through loss, examination and healing. This, from Cherry Picking (for Alison Sutherland):

She could not abide the unholy thought / of a healthy crop wholly gone / to the birds or thieving coons, or worse, / left to ripen, rot, and fall on flagstones, / rancid juices staining like blood.

And from that same poem, Epilogue:

The cherry tree went first. / A slow death, limb by fungus-rotted limb. / Hers was quicker, / a mix of pills and booze. // What remains: // Flagstones circling a dried stump. // A jar of jam glowing / in the cupboard’s night.

This visual, this emotion, will stay with me. In To Measure the World, Karen Shenfeld utilizes a surgeon’s precision, scalpel stabs that isolate and penetrate – their goal, assuredly to heal. But like that well-made gourmand’s sauce, this too takes time. Time to linger within the work’s layers and complexities. As enjoyable as the first sitting has been – initial reading-tastings – second servings, simmered and savoured, continue to improve.

To Measure the World can be purchased directly from Ekstasis Editions here.

About the Author: Karen Shenfeld has published three books of poetry with Guernica Editions: The Law of Return (1999), which won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2001, The Fertile Crescent (2005), and My Father’s Hands Spoke in Yiddish (2010). Her poetry has also appeared in journals and anthologies published in Canada, the U.S., England, South Africa, and Bangladesh, and she has given readings nationally and internationally. She is currently writing a screenplay that has been optioned by the director, Bruce McDonald.

Title: To Measure the World
Author: Karen Shenfeld
Publisher: Ekstasis Editions
ISBN: 978-1-77171-362-7
Pgs: 56 pp
Price: $23.95
Reviewer: Bill Arnott

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.