I Am the Big Heart: Poems by by Sarah Venart

Sarah Venart’s I Am the Big Heart, published fall 2020 by Brick Books, commands the poetics of family tensions. The first of five sections opens with “Epiphany,” in which the speaker struggles with many of the book’s major themes–motherhood, creativity, loss–all the while maintaining her caregiving duties up to the last moments of a pet dog’s life. The opening poem is not the only one to combine fast-paced narrative with elaborate introspection in a short number of lines. Venart’s imagery throughout the book blends abstraction and precision, sometimes within the same breath, to make frequently explored topics unique again.

Ecology is intertwined with poems on gender and loss, addressing animal life and farm life as interlocutors with the speaker’s own experiences. “Stun Guns,” which closes the second section of the book, is one of many poems to employ the grotesque and delicate nonhuman to striking effect:

I don’t know if the pigeon was stunned  
from hitting the patio door or from her torn-open
breast, but while my husband held her wings,
I saved her by crossing twine around her throat
and tightening until her lavender lids met,
her black keratin beak parting.

Intergenerational dialogue is also at the heart of this collection; the speaker finds complexity in her relationship with her young children, and she intersperses fragments from her mother’s journals that make up several found poems throughout the book. The speaker is primarily introspective, struggling to balance her dedication to her loved ones and her craft, but as she reflects on her role in her family she adopts their perspectives to enrich her own:

What advice is handed from mother  
to mother? When blending pastry,

use ice. Prick names into pies with a fork.
As for pain, you bear it

as it courses through your neck.

Venart’s book is on the shortlist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the Relit Award for Poetry this year. These nominations are most deserved; I Am the Big Heart excels at the daunting task of captivating the reader for 90 pages of short yet striking poems. Venart’s poems present vulnerability and viciousness, personal and universal at once. Her robust and nuanced images linger long after first encountering her poems and draw you back to repeat the experience.

I Am the Big Heart is a finalist at the 2021 Quebec Writers’ Federation Awards Gala. https://qwf.org/awards2021/

Sarah Venart‘s poetry has been published in Numero Cinq, Concrete and River, The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, This Magazine, Prism International, and on CBC Radio. She is the author of Woodshedding (Brick Books, 2007) and Neither Apple Nor Pear. Sarah lives in Montreal and teaches writing at John Abbott College.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Brick Books (Nov. 1 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 104 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771315369
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771315364

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Zoe Shaw is a writer, editor, and administrator based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. She is managing editor at carte blanche literary magazine. Her major interests are in gender and sexuality, ecocriticism, and the elegy in British Romantic poetry, which she explored in her master’s thesis at McGill University. @zoestropes on Instagram. Her website is http://zoeshaw.com/