Dislocations by Karen Enns

The cover art on Karen Enns’s fourth book of poetry, Dislocations, displays tree roots, emblematic of rhizome rooting and spreading throughout the collection. With the help of Jan Zwicky’s comment about Enns’s “extraordinary ear,” the reader listens to her “exquisite sculpting of silence” – the silent sculpture of roots and rhizomes, neurons relocating and re-collecting.

            The first poem, “Tanner Ridge,” resembles the repetitions in a Michael Snow film, as Enns wends her way through a dominance of monosyllables from diminishing stanzas that burrow through the ridge. She sets her perspective in a sculpted silence: “From here, the farm could be a map / or a gameboard of neat squares.” A whispered perspective in the opening stanza relies on “From,” “farm,” and “fenced”; the repetition of “each” to echo “here;” the repetition of “one,” and “holds” that captures the horse and the final “cold”: “Each square, fenced in, holds one horse, / each horse has one trough, one blanket / against the January cold.” Commas map the sections of the still landscape. The gameboard is a chessboard, but also a piano keyboard where each note touches its adjacent key.

            Motion disturbs the stillness in the second stanza: “A woman in a red jacket carries a red pail / and walks on the lane between the squares. / As she walks, each horse turns its head / to look after her, one by one.” Monosyllables march one by one through the stanza, as perspective shifts ever so slightly in Enns’s camera’s lens that gathers the singular into a cumulative effect. The third stanza narrows to a tercet: “It is so slight, the motion of each head / as she passes by with the red pail, / so slight an attention.” This slight attention belongs to each horse, but also to the observer of the scene. The hypnotic effect of slight motion diminishes further in the final couplet: “For a moment she is thought. / She is scent.” The woman in red is abstracted to pure thought, then dwindled to pure scent in a synaesthetic moment of visual delight and dislocation. Enns’s precise lyric sculpts the scene to make the moment last: the scent is passing and permanent. “Tanner Ridge” locates itself before dislocating ever so slightly.

            The poet inserts herself unobtrusively into the seascape of her next poem, “Clover Point.” In one long, lyrical sentence she sounds painterly notes: “This riot of gulls, the force / of these careening bodies.” Enns’s interplay of single and plural appears in the collective riot of gulls, a flock of sounds – s and r in the opening words reversed in “force,” while the second line elongates the e’s. Oscillation between this and these imitates the expansive motion of the birds: “hammering wings, this wind / ripping open the flaps of my coat / to make a sail of me.” The interrelation of speaker and surroundings from riot to ripping opens her up to the hazards of nature: “could pelt me seaward, into the strait / but I am held here, held to the point / by the notes of a ukulele.” The triple alliteration creates a holding pattern. Against any threatening gusts, the poet is moored by music: “yes, a small stringed instrument.” The lyric protects and tames nature. For the poet and pianist, notes and keyboard correspond to sounds of vowels and consonants. Point, played, parked, past and song particles culminate in “patterns,” while riot, ripping, rift, and riding arrange another sound pattern.

            The ukulele player faces “five bars of light / that come down to the sea.” These synaesthetic bars of light are also measures of music tethered like earth’s hidden rhizomes. They “reach right into it, five bars / almost hidden by cloud.” After many commas in the rest of the poem, this epiphany is manifested through enjambment that connects the poet to the meaning of what she beholds: “so I have to look hard / to see the transformation of this day / into something other than a gap / between the past and the future.” The longest word in the poem, “transformation” signals a spot of time other than a temporal gap or rift, and its situation in iambic pentameter relocates rhythm in other lines. Not a tectonic shift in perception; rather a minor adjustment, “like tiny bleats / for a nanosecond each.” The fortissimo at the opening of the poem diminishes to pianissimo, the hard look to hardly at all, each reach suffused and sufficient.

            Squares, points, and bars turn to circles in “Lineage,” as ancestry and geometry become dislocated. The poem’s plot of land mixes narrative and lyrical elements in its passage of time from the natural world of deer, salmonberry, and Oregon grape. From her back fence the poet watches her neighbour, Lou, and his family watching the deer and ancestors as they disappear, “except from a distance.” The repetition of watch and watching throughout the poem acts as a kind of timepiece to measure the distance of dislocation in line, lineage, and the largo of lamentation.

            “Garden Party” follows the pattern of diminishing lines at the end of a poem about situational dislocation. “The moon is orange tonight, / pure tangerine.” Despite its internal rhyme, the tangerine is anything but pure because the colour is caused by wildfires to the north and east. This impure colour moves, as do the guests and their conversation, which is “less fervent than the candles / set in glasses on the table.” These fervent candles contrast with the vast wildfires and steady random conversation. The candles “flick arguments / small mutinies into the dark.” The poet asks who will remember the words of the party’s conversation, “Those colourless moths / that swerve and disappear.” In conversations of dislocations Enns’s words swerve to reappear framed in the evanescence of orange.

            “East of Here” is a series of eight poems that revisit the poet’s past. The first poem, “The Canal,” begins with “Listen long enough and something soars” before listing several negative conditions as to the nature of this listening. After denying the sounds of ship, wind, and bridge, she concludes: “And it isn’t you standing here, / listening hard. Not you. / You haven’t lived yet.” “The Canal” contains rich and memorable sounds that are drawn and withdrawn because the listener hasn’t fully come into being, and because the external canal is also the ear’s canal and birth canal. The long sounds at the beginning of the poem narrow down in the final lines approaching silence and non-existence.

            The final poem in the series, “In All These Poems,” gathers up earlier observations of distance, narrowing, and dislocations from the past: “In all these poems / I’m partly somewhere else.” The poet is split between herself and whatever isn’t her self: “With you, without you, / walking toward you or away.” She spies her past self, her small face in the shadow of a doorway or at the piano: “You stop playing, turn to me, / and in that pause, / tell me something necessary.” Musical and poetic pauses, spatial and temporal pauses, define the silences and absences in Enns’s eloquent dislocations. This absence carries over to the first poem in the second section, “A Message,”: “The real words exist, we’re told, / and they are precise beyond belief.  / But they are not here — / not in this poem, or any other.” Negatives and a dash at the precise centre of the poem dislocate the message and belief. The “beyond” may be found in the “between” – the dislocated self, word, and elusive meaning.

            “Ten Dislocations” follows: “We walk on hard ground, frost-covered, clotted, / an atlas of what’s already been.” The background of this hard walk is ancestral and takes in Indigenous displacement; the foreground of the atlas’s palimpsest is covered in the hard sounds of frost-covered and clotted, which grab at the feet of walker and listener. The next stanza softens the sounds to a mere hiss or whisper: “And then there is this: the air is thin, / unknowable, not kind.” Monosyllables also clutch and contrast with the negatives of that second line. A question forms in the middle of the poem: “Who can sleep?” The guilt of historic dislocations forces insomnia in dreams and displacing stanzas that float across the rest of the page in shrinking meaning that paradoxically radiates outward in echo and eco-poetics: “crouching birds, small / and smaller rooms, inconsistencies of meaning in the walls.” Smallness expands through the negative of long inconsistencies and “voices, voices / conjugating infinite verbs.” Voices and verbs are spaced and spread across the page as Enns weaves between sensory precision and abstract thinking. Her deft use of the trope of leaves, pizzicato intelligence, under-pitch, overtones, and slow reverberations relocate the reader. Her lyricism sways at the edges of vowels and consonants – poetry of the periphery.

            “The Pause” examines the myth of Sisyphus through the lens of Camus. It begins on a heavy note: “Now that the boulder has thundered down the mountain,” before switching from action to reflection: “This is the time he can notice things.” Sisyphus arrives at an understanding during his pause: “But things have been said. All things.” After his study of hedges and ridges he is ready to push again, and the poem ends with “He begins.” Pauses form an integral part of Enns’s aesthetics: silences and absences in time where thoughts are gathered against action. During these pauses of dislocation, a writerly and readerly relocation ensues.

            Musical motifs run through Enns’s poems: Chopin, Mahler, Debussy, Schumann, Schubert, Shostakovitch, Bartók, and Brahms make cameo appearances. The elegiac muse resides in her music: “They are less than visions, fragments, / faint displacements I barely hear, / the trailing off of echoes like falling leaves” – variations of sotto voce.

            “Almost” is the last poem in this collection and is more than a mere coda to the poems that precede it. Almost combines all and most: Enns’s poems are less than all and more than most. Interims and intervals, they inhabit the space between all and most; they fulfill in their very denial of fulfillment, moving between nothing and something. “Almost” echoes “Terce,” the poem that precedes it: “the mouth of it almost speaks to you.” It appears in “A Theory of Nostalgia”: “you can almost hear each one,” and also in “Clover Point” (“almost hidden by clouds”). With her ear to the ground and steady footsteps, Enns dislocates nothingness into much more than something. Her “Piano Masterclass” is also a poetic masterclass, études turning and tuning minor and major chords, balanced necessities between sounds.

About the Author

Karen Enns is the author of three previous books of poetry: Cloud Physics, winner of the Raymond Souster Award, Ordinary Hours, and That Other Beauty. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ University of Regina Press (March 18 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889779309
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889779303

Poetry Editor

Michael Greenstein is a retired professor of English at the Université de Sherbrooke. He is the author of Third Solitudes: Tradition and Discontinuity in Jewish-Canadian Literature and has published widely on Victorian, Canadian, and American-Jewish literature.