Wolf Sonnets by R.P. LaRose

Like all the best poems, R.P. LaRose’s debut collection exists in the dusky, nebulous spaces between transitory ideas of self. In these 48 numerically-titled sonnets, the self’s infiniteness—its opposition to definition—clashes against cultural, historical, and colonial constraints. The opening poem of Wolf Sonnets sets up the collection’s melding of a mystical language that gleams with negative capability with a language that seeks, by describing and counting, some tangibility:

Not much rain, and a lot of wind. 
Outer space for nobody thoughts. 
You are made of four stars in four 
colours, within the spiral heat 
of galaxy. There is a word
for you in a language no one speaks.

When first reading this book, I questioned the accuracy of calling all of these poems “sonnets”; they are often loose in the formal sense (though, as seen in the above snippet, they are sometimes true sonnets). Regardless, the title’s attributive noun does a lot of work—the uncertain, tenebrous presence of wolves across the poems dismantles the predictability of form. Describing the wolves, LaRose writes: “large shadows / moved through tamaracks like spruce smoke” (Sonnet 3). Besides, an awareness of the impossibility of absolute definition pervades these poems: “These wolf sonnets. Made by a fake. / Fake poems, fake book. Fake love, fake weight.” (Sonnet 4).

Wolf Sonnets is an impressive debut, in large part due to the cohesiveness of LaRose’s overall vision.”

R.P. LaRose’s poems inhabit uncertain, in-between spaces. Earlier in the same poem, the author writes: We’re never real enough for real. / We’re never fake enough for fake” (Sonnet 4). These amorphous “wolf sonnets” bring to mind the popular French expression for dusk: “l’heure entre chien et loup” (the hour between dog and wolf), when it becomes difficult to tell between friend and foe, and impossible to identify one’s place in various changing, crepuscular landscapes.

Plus, the sonnet form’s obsessiveness lends itself to the poems, which are certainly obsessive and often repetitive. This repetitiveness, instead of grounding us, meaningfully destabilizes. For instance, in the book’s first sonnet (again), LaRose ends: “I have a car and change to give / and a room in a house with what / I want to love but not I. I / represent no one, so don’t ask.” The penultimate line’s repetition of “I” results in the final line’s dismissal of a definable self.

I found most moving LaRose’s scattered bursts of emotional sincerity. At the end of Sonnet 42, he writes: “Like all of us, I cry a little / every morning when I wake up.” Then, in Sonnet 12: “my brain a drifting cloud of leaves, / a prayer made of birch and pine, / I was bluebirds, hawks, and grebes. // I’m so angry most of the time.” I love this surprising emotional turn, especially the way it follows more traditional imagery.

On the other hand, some of LaRose’s endings lack the sincerity and attention to negative capability that permeate most of his poems. For instance, I found the ending to Sonnet 23 to be overly pretty and lacking in the kind of specificity I like about the collection as a whole: “The evening wishes all the lamps / had known that things are better left / in dark. Moonlight deserves its / time with mountains, roads, and rooftops.” I felt similarly about the end of Sonnet 13, which comes across as somewhat forced after a poem otherwise rich and original in detail: “Enjoy your stay / in Mother’s iridescent verse.” In LaRose’s own words, some of these sonnets exhibit “a whole done / thing without a feel of finish” (Sonnet 45).

But these are nitpicking. Overall, Wolf Sonnets is an impressive debut, in large part due to the cohesiveness of LaRose’s overall vision; it’s rare to encounter a first book that is a good collection (as opposed to a messy collection of stand-alone poems). I’ll be keeping an eye out for R.P. LaRose’s future books.

R. P. LaRose grew up on the prairies near Buffalo Lake, Alberta, and the boreal foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Longlisted by CBC Writes, his poetry has appeared in PRISM International and The Walrus. His first chapbook, A Dream in the Bush was published in 2017 by Anstruther Press. He earned his BA at the University of Alberta and completed his MFA at Cornell University. A member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, he currently resides in Amiskwaciy Waskahikan (Edmonton).

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Signal Editions (Oct. 23 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550656090
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550656091

Dominique Béchard is the author of One Dog Town (Gaspereau Press, 2019). She is currently working on a Ph.D. at the University of New Brunswick.