Queen and Carcass by Anna van Valkenburg

[A] rich, unpredictable, and deeply surreal exploration of identity and the multiple contradictions we each embody. These poems, set in locations real and imaginary, magical and banal, inhabited by figures out of Slavic folklore and a Boschian landscape, strive to unearth truths, especially those that are difficult or uncomfortable, using Bertolt Brecht’s maxim “Do not fear death so much as an inadequate life” as a touchstone. At once ecstatic, meditative, and grotesque, the poems in Queen and Carcass confront some of the most fundamental existential questions.

With that, we delve into Anna van Valkenburg’s Queen and Carcass. And this, from Melodies, her opening poem:

She plucks without losing tempo, / without getting carried / in the swell of a moment’s / pleasure that rises and loafs / before hungry eyes. // Even the clouds drop from the sky / like a pair of trousers, baring / what’s underneath. // To this, Aunt Krystyna / looks up, unconcerned / at the lowering tray of mist, / and the hen doesn’t / squirm or cackle, just flects / to her loosened fist. // She is at once queen / and carcass.

Musicality is what I hear. Set to a cadence of plucking, hunger, weather. Lyricality and insight runs—bloodlike—through the seemingly mundane. From this initial foray, the author had me, and I was comfortably ensconced for the ride, wherever that may lead.

This is Letter from a Real Town: I in its entirety:

I ask the town / since I had left / why it had gone // to the alien / tongues that ballooned / in speech but pruned / in the mouth / at the sight of tubs of lard / and pickled vegetables. // It says that even parents / can’t wait forever / for children to come / home. It leaves me / spitting up / on a dry mound / of gravel; // not quite / stiff as a grave, / but almost.

Taking me back, rightly or wrongly, to my hometown, returning there as an ageing adult, assuming the role of mentor, a baton from my modest hero, fellow writer-in-residence at a warmly haunted mansion set on gently sloping gravel, a place of prominence in more ways than one. To write, reflect, resuscitate relationships and aspirations. That baton not gripped in relay but instead held as a conductor addressing eager instrumentalists, the role simply to engage.

With this, from Lessons in Philosophy:

My daughter draws yellow suns / across the page of a rust-red notebook. / Some are concentric, some layered. / Some have rays. Some have edges / like cracked bones. Some are skewered meat.

Leaving me to see (or believe I see) orchestration, a poetically poised Valkenburg in the pit, directing us with her baton—each tight and polished piece in this collection comprising a score. To gather memories, insights and introspection. Players and performers left, perhaps, for us to cast as we see fit—imaginings like every well-constructed flight of song. Brava Anna van Valkenburg.

About the Author: Anna van Valkenburg was born in Konin, Poland, and currently lives in Mississauga. Her poetry and reviews have been featured in many periodicals, including The Puritan, Prism International, December Magazine, and The Rusty Toque. Her work has been shortlisted for the Pangolin Poetry Prize and nominated for the AWP Intro Journals Project. Anna is the associate publisher at Guernica Editions. Queen and Carcass is her first poetry collection.

  • Title: Queen and Carcass
  • Author: Anna van Valkenburg
  • Publisher: Anvil Press, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781772141696
  • Pages: 96
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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.