Anstruther Press has a reputation for publishing beautiful chapbooks. It comes as no surprise, then, that Julian Day’s Late Summer Flowers is no exception to the rule. Set in Saskatchewan, Day’s debut chapbook is a lovely thing. If you’ve travelled to Saskatchewan, you’ll recognize the wide open space that the landscape offers to the poet. That sense of spaciousness is present in Day’s work.
In “Qu’Appelle Moon,” Day conjures up the space of the valley itself, referring to the moon as a “pearl over water,” a “prairie lantern,” a “coyote’s eye,” and even as a compass. It is, he writes, the “last lamp/before the final naming of things.” In “Saskatchewan,” the poet writes about the province being the “middle of the west, an easy trapezoid,” and how it is “a province of winter/rye and wheat, a place you left/but never plan to leave.” He speaks about how there is beauty in Saskatchewan’s “show of what’s wide open,/whether the sky or the sharptail’s refusal of it.” The landscape of the place causes you to pause, to stop and take stock of internal things.
There is an underlying sense of nostalgia in this collection, of remembering and longing for moments of connection from years gone by. In “Godzilla (1998),” the speaker refers to the unspoken boundaries that often exist between close male-female friendships and romantic relationships, and how tenuous a line that can sometimes be. The poet writes: “The world may not have been simpler then,/but we could explain away the rumblings--/that what we felt were only tremors/and not a creature in the seabed.” From a distance, looking back on the past from an older age, we tend to romanticize it all, gloss it over with gilded paint, in sharp contrast to our more consistent responsibilities and worries of having grown up and reached adulthood.
In “Summer Flowers,” the poet documents a youthful relationship that broke apart. The poem begins, beautifully, with the line “I found you at the edge of summer,/falling for the wide-open road/and the French in your voice.” By the final stanza, though, the relationship is “over and ended,” just a “fragment of a moment” in a life’s journey, “two lovers/in a haze of gin and weed, the late summer flowers dying at our feet.” These memories, these absences that are made present, are scattered through the collection in a bittersweet fashion.
Everything here is tied to the natural world and landscape of the prairies. In the landscape, the poet finds comfort and respite. In “Qu’Appelle,” Day writes of how the fields express absence “as flowers, blue notes/resolving to a cadence,/the prairie’s memory/of that moment.” In “Passage,” he writes of how a journey “is not an ending.” This poem is about loss, about illness and mortality, and how people survive after the ones they have loved deeply have departed. There is, he writes, a “summer land,” where “you and I can rest in tallgrass,/and your heavy spirit/can finally find its sleep.” After turmoil, there is a place where a mourner can “follow you/to where your troubles pass/as birds.” If you’ve set foot in Saskatchewan, you’ll likely know this sense of freedom, of how the landscape unlocks the sharp clasp of pain and opens you up to some kind of peace.
There are just ten poems in Julian Day’s Late Summer Flowers, but they feel as if they are windows opened to catch a summer breeze, opening themselves up to encourage the reader to blossom, too. It is a strong debut collection, and I look forward to seeing a full length book of Day’s work sometime soon.
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 Ontario representative of The Writers' Union of Canada (2020-22), and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim can be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com