It is a very difficult task to write honestly about loneliness. Accurately highlighted as “the other contemporary epidemic” on the back cover of Shelley A. Leedahl’s new collection, it is a phenomenon which can permeate the entirety of one’s life, but which can be almost impossible to meaningfully acknowledge. As such, Leedahl’s writing in Go deserves immense credit for speaking directly to her experiences, and for doing so in a way that is thorough, unflinching, alternately wry and earnest, and always generous and artful. It is this commitment to both forthrightness and poetic subtlety which makes Go such an enjoyable book.
Though there are many different narrative moments in Leedahl’s poetry, possessed with a wide variety of emotional tenors, I was perhaps most drawn to the beautiful spare quality of those lines where loneliness was confronted head-on:
but once again, no plans for New Year’s Eve.
Getting to be a long time;
you’d like to hold anyone’s hand.
(from “Late December”)
With no artifice or embellishment, Leedahl captures both the pain of solitude and the complex feelings which can come from articulating that pain. These lines also serve to demonstrate the poet’s gift for strong, emphatic endings; they act as the closing couplets to a haunting poem of observation. I was particularly impressed by this facet of Leedahl’s writing in “Salema,” which ends a section of pieces on travel in Europe, and which has one of the strongest endings to a poem that I’ve encountered in some time. Yet another strength of Leedahl’s poetry lies in her capacity for imaginative, stark images; Go has the distinction of containing two of my new favorite sky-related lines (“Clouds smithereen, like dandelions.” from “Alberta Avenue,” and “The heavens have gone reptile.” from “Sunshine Coast Series”). Leedahl additionally displays a well-developed capacity for sonic playfulness throughout the collection, as in this small section from "Our Therapists Agree”:
sprayed like charms,
smoke-tangles and lake sweaters,
loon-songs endorsing the gloaming.
All of this is to say that Go is a thoroughly well-composed, well-rounded collection. Though this applies comprehensively in my view in terms of poetic style, I will confess that I had some personal difficulty with a small number of the pieces which focused primarily on feelings of hope and gratitude. There is a certain kind of poem, often taking the form of a list and making use of anaphora, which makes a case for hopefulness by highlighting many small, perhaps oft-overlooked beauties (my mind jumps to Jan Zwicky’s “You Must Believe in Spring” as a brilliant example). Though I am entirely sympathetic to the impetus behind these poems, I cannot help but find that they often ring somewhat hollow emotionally. Leedahl writes in a similar mode in such pieces as “What is Good,” “Let Us,” and “Ways to be Happier,” and while all possess fine images and expert pacing, I would certainly say that I did not enjoy them as much as other, more emotionally vulnerable elements of the text.
Whatever one’s reaction to the book’s various emotional resonances, it is certainly the case that Go is a fantastic book of poetry. It is stylistically varied and sonically adventurous, and it is resolute, courageous, and caring. In a society that is currently being scoured by loneliness, it is particularly impactful and timely. It is an admirable collection, and comes highly recommended.
Ethan Vilu is a poet and editor from Calgary, Alberta. Their longsheet A Decision Re:Zurich was published by The Blasted Tree in 2020, and their poetry and reviews have been featured in a variety of outlets. Ethan currently serves as both poetry editor and circulation manager for filling Station. Their summer plans consist mainly of reading newspapers and playing Chaos Galaxy.