Gordon Hill Press, 2020
You’ll know, when you start to read Amy LeBlanc’s debut book of poems, I know something you don’t know, that you’re entering a realm that might be adjacent to—but isn’t really fully a part of—this three dimensional one we live in now. In the very first piece, “Wintering,” the speaker says “I am a calamity/asking for armistice.” Those final two lines, in that first poem, kick at the reader’s heart and gut. Move on, then, to “Night Apparition,” and find images of Ophelia in a “filigree nightgown,” standing “at the edge/of the water.” Here is the picture of a woman who has rib bones that “are lined/with nectar and fastened/with an ivory button,” in a surreal poem where “horses drink/poisoned water.” Things are not pretty here, are meant to make you feel ill at ease, but also likely meant to draw you forward—as if into a gloomy forest in a fairy tale gone wrong. To resist the pull would be futile—and a loss to the reader, too—if fear stopped you from the adventuring.
There’s a distinct texture to the poems in LeBlanc’s collection, with images that seem both glossy and full of decay at the same time. It’s a delicate dance between beauty and gore that she’s orchestrating here, and it works. In “The fox changes his fur,” the poet writes: “Teeth fall from her lips:/twenty white piano keys/dangling from the mouth,” and in “Birthing Black Rabbits,” we read of a woman who grips wet sheets as rabbit feet emerge “from between her legs.” This is, as is stated in the poem, “a monstrous birth.” Throughout the collection, there are images of decaying foliage, stone, magpies that hold corpses, bruised plums, and strange, thirsty mouths that temporarily house moths. These are upended folkloric and fairytale images, ones that subvert the traditional essence of those tales in a subtle and unnerving manner. “Fractured” is one way of describing them.
Then there are the women who populate the ethereal and unsettling inter-dimensional world that LeBlanc has created. Besides the ‘ghost’ of Ophelia that appears at the start of the collection, there are allusions to a variety of women who seem to be conjured up from the land itself. In poems like “Foxgloves,” “Luster, n.,” and “A spell for a husband,” the reader comes to know that this is a gathering of pieces that speak to how powerful women actually are, and there is the suggestion of a coven of interesting witchy figures that moves creepily throughout the book. They might seem dark at first, but all together feel more powerful—and empowered—than evil. What they do, it seems, is pull energy up from the earth and wield it for creative purposes. They feel, to me as a reader, to be women who are complex and richly created, not at all stereotypical of old school fairy tale witches.
When you finish reading Amy LeBlanc’s I know something you don’t know, you’re left remembering the original darkness of the oldest versions of these tales. If you’ve studied them, you’ll know that those were not ‘pretty’ worlds or stories, either, so this return to a spookier dimension isn’t far off the earlier, more historic mark in terms of atmosphere. What’s different is that the women in this collection have more power, are magic, and are strong feminist figures who don’t put up with any sort of nonsense. If you’re a fan of fantasy—of legend and fairy tales—then this debut will suit you like a well-woven red cloak that needs to be worn on a walk through a dark forest, on the way to your grandmother’s house.
Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. She was poet laureate in Sudbury from 2016-18, and was the first woman appointed to the role. Kim's latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She's a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers' Union of Canada, and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim blogs fairly regularly at kimfahner.wordpress.com and can be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com