Zoë Landale

Writer & Indie Publisher

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Landale’s language burns

away the mists of the past, preparing a place of welcome for our ghosts. John Newlove. The Antigonish Review, Allan Brown. Robin Skeleton’s distinction of psychic and psychological is particularly useful, I think, in responding to the work of Zoe Landale. In other hands, the impulse behind Burning Stone might degenerate into just one more dogged examination and exhumation of family roots. She is concerned, to be sure, with various members of her family, past and present, but in a disciplined and non-indulgent way. This is no mere loose, inchoate Life Writing, but rather a series of exercises in portraiture reminiscent of the heightened realism of artists like Christopher Pratt and Bruce St. Clair. Landale usually concentrates on specific details to supply objective correlatives for her work of “exorcism,” such as “the photograph / of my sixteen-year old Great-great-grandmother” suggestively marked “Circa 1850,” or “My Great-grandmother’s eyeglasses,” or “My grandmother Minnie’s diaries from 1917 to 1979” in the summarizing poem “My Beautiful Ghosts.” Sometimes she creates an intentional confusion, as with the series of apparently random jottings about “Josie…… Cecil,” and “Lorraine” in “The Old Vitriol,” or more mysteriously with the anonymous suicide poem “Song of the River.” More often, however, she will focus sharply upon one clearly delineated person, as with “Aunt Anne, Artist.” An expansive image (a brief allegory, really) from this poem points out Landale’s own artistic method. You separated beliefs as emotions neatly as a trout’s backbone peels away from cooked flesh. The nine-part title poem, the last in the section of the book called “Family,” contains another example of this simple, yet almost unbearably tense domestic imagery. It begins casually, in a gently rocking, anecdotal style “Lunch was always the same / sliced hothouse tomatoes, the very best ground beef / orange Kraft dressing on both / with vanilla ice cream for dessert.” Then comes the explanation of it all: ”The structure of meals a ritual which/held back chaos,” and then a final, flippant note to remark how this “ritual” (or perhaps the structure” itself) was the thing which “turned on the lights” and “made it look as though someone was home.”. In her ongoing publications, Landale continues to manipulate and evoke this awesome clarity of description. The poem “Oatmeal Cookies,” for instance, which appeared in the Autumn 1995 issue of Canadian Literature, casually records “the yellow radiance / the plastic mixing bowl makes against / the white counter.”. Books in Canada, Rita Donovan. Zoe Landale’s Burning Stone (Ronsdale, 115 pages, $10.95 paper), too, is filled with ghosts, ghosts that will not lie still but rattle incessantly in the author’s ears. The first section, in fact, is entitled “My Beautiful Ghosts” and draws the reader into a world of photographs, family histories, and versions of the past. Many are angry, embittered poems about grandmothers, devastating ones about grandfathers: “He beat his children so they dimpled / soft as red cedar, / never meant for hammering” (“Photomontage”). Elsewhere in the same poem the poet offers. The word family has misled me. I had hoped for kisses all round affection heady as brandy. The speaker notes, however, that “there is no safety in these people.” This is a home truth, something she vacillates upon but ultimately seems to understand. Just as there is no safety in these people, neither did these people enjoy such safety. It is a truth that allows her to re-evaluate certain family members and ultimately to take the first steps towards forgiveness. . . . fierce in its honesty. Landale’s haunting is our own. Return to Books.

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