Broken Dawn Blessings: Poems by Adam Sol

I read Adam Sol’s How a Poem Moves (EWC, 2019) as a book, and before that as a blog column, and was immensely impressed. Someone who can read, appreciate, take joy in, teach and analyze poems, does not always transfer to being able to write poems that move. It was with trepidation then delight that I found in Broken Dawn Blessings: Poems he can do both roles.

The memorable cover of orange sky and chicks, maws open for regurgitated food is a distinct of cover as Anne Marie Todkill’s Orion Sweeping (Brick, 2022) and Toward a Blacker Ardour by Phil Hall (Beautiful Outlaw, 2021).

The book opens within a wrenching moment of his wife being in cancer surgery. “I’m wearing her har tie like a ring on my finger.” There is forward motion, a sense of tension and intensity of the experience that I hoped to capture in similar circumstance but failed hard. This conveys it

It enacts being keenly present with an unflinching dignity. (p. 7) “In the blur between/motion and stillness//blessing and complaint//I acknowledge you my joints/faithful to your faults” Even when feeling deflated, and scared, as Captain Michael in Discovery said, you have to make a choice in order to move forward. Or in Sol’s phrasing (p. 9), “Hard as it is//to believe in anything/I believe in bus/lines/power lines, /yellow lines in the road/we all know/how to use.” When all is in upheaval he puts a finger on the importance of normally overlooked constants. These steady in the buffeting of news cycles and personal traumas.

One aspect I found humorous is his irreverent, repeated baiting and berating god, the “Old Faker, Fraud”, even within the act of daily prayer. The relationship strained as parent child, it is still a tether, and a constant.

Unsurprisingly given his attention to language and literary history, he attends to poetic devices that make the poems hold denser and more pleasurably. For example, the slant rhyme in “Y’s surgery was a success/but the year will still suck.” The “suck” to “success” transition is a sort of verbal matryoshka that gives me a particular pleasure.

Although it is a theme book, it is not a book that feels padded with redundant or obsessional facets of one thought. It trails Birkhot HaShachar, prayers recited to start a day, and the fragment is cited in Hebrew as epigraphs and I presume the titles are the translations, such as the first half of “Gives the Rooster understanding” (p. 17)

"Have to keep the tv sound
down to eggshell
Y's fragile sleep
It's all police shooting anyway
police shooting news
police shooting movies
even police shootings in sports
so I go out to the porch
where an idiotic robin
built her nest too close to my chair
now she's scared to feed
her chicks while I'm sitting there."

If we take this as characteristic of the collection, we see many of the recurrent elements, being helpless to a loved one’s recovery, the media news, and the anchor of the natural world. And the linguistic play he adeptly moves through the ideas as a needle and thread doing an edgestitch. The irregular end rhymes of sports and porch, chair and there. The foreshadowing of the birds in the use of the elegant phrase “eggshell sleep”, which evokes the associations of the set phrase walking on eggshells but makes it fresh. It is set firmly in the now with the television, in the particular with Y and bridges to the timeless with seasonal nest building. Some would cull the repetition of the word “shooting” but it is far from redundant but enacting the repetitions of shootings and police everywhere, an environment of danger and threat entering the house, the sanctum. Beyond the news, you have things out of alignment. Birds should know enough to observe people’s habits and yet, here is the writer, helpless again when routine impinges on parenting in another way, like a B plot to the A plot of Y as parent in danger. Birds are somewhat inscrutable in choices. Even as I write it is day 3 of a male robin bopping my window endlessly. That fuel could be used for nest building, for the next generation and somehow, like Sol, I feel responsible somehow for the bird’s lost labour. Later in the poem he asks “who can set the broken bone/of the world aright”. That imploring plaintive exactly expresses the sense of everything being out of whack, out of control and yet fixable, surely, fixable.

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Often smart poems, intellectually engaged poems on this level, lose the empathic element but these are full of heart. A refrain through the book is that those structurally set up to protect, whether police, god, partner, or animal parent, are somehow out of their depth or off course and the protection isn’t happening. The poems bend to almost Jonathan Swift’s satire in “Public Expression” (p. 31) where our default position is grief for someone. We’re all at the ready, queue up the next focus.

Somehow he engages at a distance and with a skill that allows us to not be crocodile-rolled into grief and understandable anger. Perhaps it is because of his abiding faith that prevents it from being depressing but a kind of hard resilient beauty. He is too aware of the dynamics at play for him to sink himself so keeps us buoyant with sharp images that don’t lose themselves into too much lightness, but adds levity enough, How can you tell humour from complaint? p. 44,

"It's true the lyrics is merely
an instrument of escape—
like a shiv filed
from a plastic spork"

You use the tools, the perceptions, the experiences, the language you have at hand and by magic of such literacy, bring your world to another person. An amazing gift. A blessing even.

About the Author

Adam Sol has published four previous books of poetry, and one collection of essays, How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers of Poetry. He is the Coordinator of the Creative Expression & Society Program at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. He lives in Toronto, Ontario

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 21 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416064
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416062

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