Bunchberries: More Poems of Canada
Published by FootHills Publishing, 2015
By the looks of the soles
of my feet and between my toes,
in my hair, rubbed into my panties—
head to toe—I’ve already become
a PEI red-dirt girl.
For this is the Island of Red,
red cliffs, red sands, red rocks,
red stones, red soil and red ribbons
of unpaved roads unfurling
from blue sky to blue St. Lawrence sea;
through green fields of hay and badadas,
past blue herons in blue marshes,
the blue trim of white fishing boats
Walking away unshod, roughshod, I ruddy
my steps. I paint ripples of red mud
on my face. I twirl down the lane
to Malpeque Bay, a reveler
in the red of Prince Edward.
I redden, ready to be now Red Earth mother.
Merrifield’s book, Bunchberries, More Canada Poems is a stunning sequel to her acclaimed Godwit: Poems of Canada, which won the prestigious Andrew Eiseman Award for Poetry. This new volume from FootHills Publishing (May 2015) takes readers on a sensual, palpable journey through thirty-seven poems and ten of her color photographs. Never has armchair travel been so visceral. Merrifield swaths us with the moist landscapes of the far Northeast in a lyrical language of place so that we’re in her urgent terrain – “the hamlet hunkers down, listens, and awaits.” She urges us to feel Québec’s fog, smell the roses of Nova Scotia, taste the ubiquitous bunchberries. Together we also follow her trail winding through the rough patches of a sister’s grief, the dangerous tides of growing old, Earth’s stormy sorrows. Even so, you will be buoyed as she was in writing the poems in these pages. From ferry boats to a ferry-boat captain, from red dirt farms to cobbled beaches, from dangerous tides to harbor’s safety like one of the last commercial fishing vessels on Lake Erie in Merrifield’s “Ballad for August 27, 2012.” It is no wonder The Head & The Hand Press finds among these poems “a beautiful tribute to a disappearing way of life.” Buncherries is a comfortable, comforting read.
Karla Linn Merrifield’s poem “Ballad for August 27, 2012” takes place on the storied shores of Lake Erie, minus the bountiful hauls of sturgeon and herring. She focuses on the Mummery Brother’s trawler, a “ghost boat of the Great Lakes,” packed with “hopeful ice.” A variety of factors from pollution to the parasitic sea lamprey have contributed to the industry’s decline. Indigenous species of fish like the blue pike and the deep-water cisco are now extinct. Merrifield’s poem is a beautiful tribute to a disappearing way of life, and we at The Head & The Hand Press are grateful for the opportunity to share a glimpse of that legacy.
– The Head & The Hand Press (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
The language of Karla Linn Merrifield is nearly always phrased in an animated brogue of images and the patterns she sings them in – this time, in Bunchberries, her lingering refrains call forth bountiful roses in the foggy Maritimes and croon bittersweet dirges in the rocky woods of the Algonquin. With near-joyous chants, she also wordpaints the Great Lakes’ shores with star-swirled Petoskey stones in her mantra-like song of the Erie-o. There’s no doubting Merrifiel’s continued, yearning love of Canada, which is personified yet again in the charms of her adeptly wrought poems of discernible Canadian place.
– Eve Anthony Hanninen, poet, writer, and emeritus editor of The Centrifugal Eye (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
So much more than just “ore Poems of Canada”, Bunchberries is a celebration of it; and with the help of Canadians who don’t normally get to cheer, such as yearning ferries and princess ferries. In the follow up to the award winning Godwit, Merrifield shows us around with all the wonderful enthusiasm of someone who could outpace Whitman travelling down the road. Although the poems range in subject matter, and the subject matter is Canada, it is at heart a poetry of cheering. How refreshing!