Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl has left me breathless and heartbroken by a tragic story uniquely depicted. Goyette’s series of linked poems has also left me awestruck once again at her singular gifts for evoking emotion and revelations through startling juxtapositions of animate and inanimate, real and imagined, quick and dead, soulless and spiritual.
Those gifts were on fine display in her 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Ocean. In those poems, she brought the ocean to life as a full character, brimming with capriciousness, mischief and even menace as it interacts with the community that relies on, reveres it, cherishes it and fears it.
Goyette’s startlingly unique takes on the many people who failed an abused child might seem inexplicably frivolous and irreverent at first glance.
“Her prescription pad was important to the doctor.”
“The girl’s father had been prescribed aluminum foil.”
“The lawyer prayed for a parking space.”
“The girl’s mother, without telling the doctor, had taken
double her dose of television and had neglected
to take any of her patience.”
In fact, the tone of muted whimsy serves cumulatively powerful purposes over the course of the collection. In its way, it enables the reader to not turn away, as a more baldly stated account of the child’s fate would likely do. It defuses the power of the selfishness, perversity, cruelty and neglect visited on an innocent, and reduces pointedly to ridiculousness the factors and the pathetic figures that contributed to her death. At the same time, that fairy tale-like tone captures a child’s spirit and ultimately offers hints of hope and redemption, felt in this unconventional eulogy’s final lines:
“… several seasons later,
the tree surprised the bear by flowering; its fruits a succulence
that chimed with her loss a new kind of nourishment.”
The tactile warmth of another finely crafted Gaspereau book, emblazoned with a specially commissioned woodcut by George Walker of a bear – the child’s one protector – add to this singular collection’s approachability on a subject typically of despair.
The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
Published by Gaspereau Press
2015 / Poetry / $19.95
9781554471461 / Trade paper / 64 pp