Once a Murderer - Reviews
Pacific Rim Review of Books, Winter 2009, Ray de Kroon
As a reader passionate about poetry, much of what arrives these days leaves me feeling like a sockeye flopping in the Sahara sand dunes. But after reading Zoe Landale’s Once a Murderer, I felt as if I had been been placed back in the waters of Barkley Sound where I belong. Landale’s poetry is refreshing and straightforward and her collection offers ample narrative for the reader to understand what the poems are trying to say.
Her book is divided into three sections, the first two containing poems and the last a series of odd listings that made me a little nervous when I first thumbled through them. Most of the poems are more than capable of standing alone but Landale’s work really reads best as one long narrative or poem sequence. The voice is relatively consistent, that of a married woman in love with an also married police officer. She accompanies this officer while he is on duty and she sees him periodically at court and over coffee.
Within the poems Landale creates a connection between crime and forbidden love that she weaves together with her verse. Here, a hand on the shoulder or a gentle caress can hae an impact as great as a knife thrust to the heart. Although one might expect otherwise after readig the first few pages, the book ultimately offers a story of unrequited love. Desire is met with resistance, and as the officer tells her in perhaps one of the most hurtful moments in the book, “I never met a woman yet/worth half my pension.” The previously mentioned lists that make up the final section and funny and even sardonic and include “ways to say goodbye,” “ways to get the truth,” “how to kill a cop,” etc. Perhaps they are the most effective way to give closure to this love affair, just as officers might tell off colour jokes to deal emotionally with the gruesome realities of crime.
The majority of Landale’s poems are divided into two (and sometimes even three) columns. The left-hand column contains the main narrative line and the right-hand column comments (often ironically and subversively) on the other. This technique is effective in poems such as “Once a Murder” and “Steelhead Fishing.”In other pieces, the right-hand column can distract from the main narrative. At times, I found myself reading the left-hand column while ignorning the other. I would then go back and read what I had skipped on the right. Even during a second reading, and the book certainly warrants it, I continued in this way. I felt I was getting more from some of the pieces by doing so despite the fact that I was undoubtly missing connections and juxtapositions that the author had intended. Still, Landale’s split narrative technique allows her to make those connections and that would not be possible with a more traditional format. It would be remarkable, I’m sure, to hear her work read aloud with different corresponding and overlapping voices.
Landale’s poetry contains imagery and metaphor as breathtaking as the landscape of the West Coast it draws so heavily upon. Here is poetry as vivid and startling as the places where BC’s coastal mountains tumble into the sea. In “Steelhead Fishing” the persona describes the detective watching her as a “controlled burn eying/first growth timber.” In “Pink Lilies,” she says she “wants a man who can touch her like a colour.” In “Evergreens Remind Her,” she describes marriage as:
. . . a boat
where you are both the keel
and wind, red paint on the hull
and the creaming liquid buoyancy beneath
they are both bore up by long-
Here is poetry we can feel and smell, like the scent of fragrance during an embrace or a knife piercing muscle and bone. It is no surprise this collection won first prize for poetry in the CBC Literary Competition. Pick up this book and, without feeling like a fish out of water, you can begin to care about the lives of those inside.
Poetry Review for the Year 2008 (Ryan Melson, Journal of Canadian Poetry Volume 25, 2/1/2011) “Overall, Landale’s intertwining of personal lives with their linguistic construction is simultaneously harrowing and fascinating; reading Once makes it clear why she won the poetry prize for the CBC literary competition.
The TORONTO STAR BARBARA CAREY, Poetry Columnist
Sun., June 8, 2008
In the collection’s best poems, Landale links crime and illicit sex – intimacy and guilt aren’t just for (would-be) adulterous lovers, they also bond cop and perp; interrogation and seduction are both forms of manipulation. Some poems are also ingeniously layered in a way that conveys the narrator’s conflicted feelings; we hear from the side of her that yearns to give in to temptation, but we also hear the inner voice of resistance.
On the page, these voices are differentiated spatially: a description of the woman’s encounters with the detective is oriented to the left-hand margin; her editorializing is on the right. In the title poem, Landale adds a third voice: phrases taken from poet Anne Carson’s Men in the Off Hours, about the transgressive nature of touch (“contact is crisis,” as Carson puts it).
A selection from Once a Murderer won the CBC Literary Awards in 2003, and, in the audio version, the voices overlap and echo each other hauntingly. What’s intriguing in print is stunning as sound – and a neat reminder that poetry can still be most effective when heard, not just read.
Editor’s choice: 8 recommended titles from recent releases(The Vancouver Sun, 6/7/2008)
“Zoë Landale teaches writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. This book of poetry, a response to the violence around us, draws on her experiences accompanying RCMP officers on patrol. Poem titles include ‘Ways to Identify Bad Guys,’ ‘Ways to Catch a Murderer,’ ‘How to Kill a Cop” and “How to Kill a Civilian’
Anne Burke, Feminist Caucus, 02/05/2014)
“The first section “Touch” domestic relations are strained, while temptations abound. She was Sleeping Beauty and he was R.C.M.P. Research becomes a “well-behaved as a police dog at obedience trials.” The poems are arranged as texts may be in a script, with characters briefly delineated, establishing setting succinctly, and internal monologues italicized. “police never give / information, only take”. (“Portrait Of An Investigator”) She scribbles in a diner, “She thought of him invoking wife”. (“Falcon & Moon”) Her feminine glances and sustained guile motivate her keeping a secret, “they’re not lovers and won’t be”. (“Big Sky Of Life”) Story is defined as “a fictitious tale”. The police pilot eyes marijuana, nirvana in motion. His second wife proves “he’d need multiples”. Life is “that helicopter lurch”. An epigraph from Anne Carson on the meaning of touch “as crisis” prequels “Men in the Off Hours”, where Carson’s terms are in bold. The language extols “to serve and protect”, “Authorized Personnel Only”, etc. then repeatedly undercuts the layers of official procedures, with “Once A Murderer”, “The Hug”, “Eye Contact”, “”Light On Moving Water”, “Today She Is Invisible”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and finally “Steelhead Fishing”. Touch may be modified, physical, oral, emotional, fixed, modified, imaginary, difficult, violating, which we face daily and even “a closed category”, due to not transgressing a boundary.
The second section “Body Language” sums up brain-based learning research, left-hand
justified narrative arranged in juxtaposition to right-hand justified commentary. For example, in “Flowers and Bones”, the opening statement “What can she sing but poppies” presents a rhetorical structure which defines and then describes the fine details, as in the complementary “their red sheen, the way life /doesn’t hurt so much when / she tends them”. The eye returns to the next declarative statement, “blood colour in drifts”, which eventually shifts to “glided under her radar”. In “After The Hearing: Crime Scene Photos” uses a similar organization, with an epigraph from novelist Graham Greene, “Leave death to the professionals”. On the left, “The body reclines”, and on the right, the conversational exchange between the R.C.M.P. officer and poet/the woman who watches both move forward the narrative. The official language of the pathologist’s report gives way to the olfactory of “snow smell on the wind”. The American television program “Law & Order” defines the difference among “Man (slaughter) 1, Man(slaughter) 2, and Murder. Therefore, the poem is arranged in parallel sections, headed by “Man1” and “Man 2”. The police officer is male and the husband of a female who “waits for him to come back from solving murders”. Their roles are stereotypical, like the stories television tells, consumed by the masses for entertainment. In “Confession”, the stage is set, for every good police narrative, with a man and his wife. Body language must be read because words have been expunged.
In the third section “Crime & Poetry” both terms are sequentially defined and described throughout, using the documentary and found poems, with multiple lists, in note-form. The comparisons are effective and effusive, as “poetry is the swing of a crane”, “sunlight”, a 30-lb salmon”, “a temple roof”, “light standing out in the rain”, “a recessed light”, “a crime scene”, “effervescence boiling”, “a minefield”, “a smooth rock”, “a huge bag of fireworks”, “a secret”, “a red rose” (Gertrude Stein). Crime is “burying the rose”, arming the secret”, “a willful refusal”, “the same rock”, “not watching”, “willfully pitching”, “smeared with body fluids”, “shooting out the light”, “stabs you with the word”, “giving silencers”, “a peeping Tom”, “tossing in a lit phrase”, “a mouth”, and, on a dark January bridge, urges ‘Jump’”
Of verse and violent crime (Barbara Carey, The Toronto Star, 6/8/2008)
“In the collection’s best poems, Landale links crime and illicit sex – intimacy and guilt … also bond cop and perp; interrogation and seduction are both forms of manipulation.”
Editor’s choice: 8 recommended titles from recent releases(The Vancouver Sun, 6/7/2008)
“Zoë Landale teaches writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. This book of poetry, a response to the violence around us, draws on her experiences accompanying RCMP officers on patrol. Poem titles include ‘Ways to Identify Bad Guys,’ ‘Ways to Catch a Murderer,’ ‘How to Kill a Cop” and “How to Kill a Civilian’.”