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Dani Couture. Sweet.

Dani Couture. Sweet. Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2010.

Sweet, with its candy stripe cover and carnivalesque font, has a saccharine veneer that implies this book may be both immensely satisfying and regrettable in its intensity. However, Couture's second volume of poetry manages to delight without overwhelming, and Sweet has a complexity that extends far beyond the notes detectable by our mammalian taste buds. In this work, Couture does not savour the sweetness of anything. She explores instead the act of longing, and how desire leaves one vulnerable and exposed to the unforeseen. Tension between city and country dominates the book, but rather than mythologize one side (as is often done), Couture weighs and measures each with a scrupulous, unsentimental eye. Commuters, sullen teenagers, and suburban homeowners are studied as dispassionately as gulls, bears, and weather. Couture opens the book with the sweeping pronouncement: "I cannot love you all and won't." Indeed, the narrator of Sweet is almost always outside the frame, ambivalent, observant, judging, or else aware of judgment being passed, of a lack or an irony no one else sees. The use of a third-personed "you" proliferates, and sometimes creates an intimacy with the reader; at other times it feels accusatory or evasive, pushes the reader away. With Sweet, I longed at times for more interiority in the narration: the way both rush-hour crowds and expansive wilderness can cause a person to dissociate and begin to reflect lucidly about their own existence. But the externalized focus in Sweet is key. There is admiration for the inhabitants of these cleaved worlds--specifically because they are so at ease within their reality, so unquestioning of themselves. The voice aspires to the same kind of peace. One of Couture's most compelling themes is injury and accident: storms, fractures, bad timing, one creature's needs and desires buffeting against another's. In "Fair Game," Couture highlights the barbarism of animals who have broken into and raided the cottage: "a door torn off its hinges / a signature carved into counter." But we, too, act without questioning the impact of our desires: "I picked the already thin / blueberry bushes clean / and for a year afterward / the bears roamed hungry-- / picking off campers in crisp red tents." Bears are a recurrent motif in Sweet, and are an effective metaphor: in all their ferocity, they are simply doing what comes naturally. In "Ninety-Six Stitches," Couture anthropomorphizes the reasoning of the bear behind an attack: "It's her fault / for being so pink / perfect young / and running." With its fable-like qualities and hawk's eye view, I wanted Sweet to resolve firmly, to solidify into stiff, whipped peaks; I wanted it to impart some kind of parable, or survival skills, but of course all of that would be too clean. Toward the end of the book the title poem advises: "the bears want not / the honey, but the bees. Carry a swarm / in your pocket to meet the beasts you meet." However, the final poem, "Dinner in the City," ends with the speaker's guard completely down-uncertain, alone, and reflective. It is a messier and less heroic ending than preparing to battle bears with bees. Yet it is much starker in its reality: "my failed marriage: a final trip to the zoo, the grizzlies, our last fifty dollars.... Driving down soft gravel roads. What forgiving fields will have me now?"

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Author:Howell, Stevie
Publication:ARC Poetry Magazine
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2012
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