Girl Running by Diana Hope Tegenkamp (Thistledown, 2021) reviewed by Pearl Pirie
How could I not love a poet who epigraphs Nicole Brossard and Erín Moure? And a poem after Robert Hass. Girl Running by Diana Hope Tegenkamp is divided into 6 sections, “Spectra” of white poems, “Arterial” which are more family poems, “Each breath an oar” (which I would imagine was in the running for the book title), “Quarry” of vispo, experimental and ekphrastic, “Fata Morgana” of dreams, and “The Speed of this Passing” of end of life of her mom. Often sections have a segment of a prose poem called “Loop” which further tethers this tender book together.
My copy is heavily highlighted with favourite turns of phrase or turns of concept. Simply gorgeous ideas and images. “Thoracic flow of trees” (p. 39), for example, gives poem envy.
The book is marked by a “mollusk dawn” of self-awareness, a tectonic paradigm shift, a reevaluating and resetting the axis of meaning or towards gelling into meaning. And (spoiler alert) a finding of core truths in the value of family and of love.
We are witness to Tegenkamp as she realizes the other side of the binaries as on p. 14—
Her mother mouthing the words in a choir as instructed is recast wider, “mouth moving,/making its own silence” with “Song, and cries/held in”, meditating on the implications of not being heard, at an individual level or the level of Highway of Tears. A mandated silence numbs. If you are closed to your grief, you are also closed to your joy and your history.
A refrain through the first section of the book is whiteness, of snow that is painted, of her mother’s blindness and of societal blindness to their impact on Indigenous women’s lives. (p. 16) “You’ve risen without the word lavender to describe your footsteps in snow. A woman walking the white bone alley.” As the book flows forward it becomes more saturated with colour.
She returns throughout to the idea of light as a touchstone. For example, in p. 27 as she is ill in bed
“Light passsing/hard to hold onto, harder to see”
p. 4, “Frequency
“Maybe light/doesn’t seek anything”
That daring, asking self to unpack significances imposed as a given, as a cultural gift, and find it an empty box. Maybe there is no intention. Maybe there is no enemy or hero. Maybe there is what is and nothing beyond. It is frightening and freeing. Watching self and seeing cause and effect, source and impact. For example,
“to say “you” is to think/of the two great arteries/carrying blood to the head”
And to ask that what if that freight were unhooked?
She does this inner-work without becoming hazily abstract. She incorporates conversations, and radio announcements and Buffy.
It’s sometimes said that no one wants to read someone else’s dreams but we do if they are a story interestingly told. In the book sleep and dream act not as dissemblers and chaos but means to order. Even in dreams there’s an astute eye witnessing her life in minute detail. For example, in “Far”, p. 42
How do we know a certain slouch
will cause such surrender? We don’t.
Our eyes can’t anticipate space collapsing,
can’t predict such generosity.
That richness of not knowing, and of imagining the possible, of life becoming easier, not out of someone else’s failure but sudden tenderness and kindness. It is a bold imagining. What if everything doesn’t descend to entropy and chaos, (p. 45) “your nieces, parkas/open, bare heads” but a kind of perfection? How would we choose and live differently?
Why is the titular girl running? To my eyes, away from the oppressive shadows and shallows and towards the depths of new light.