This review was originally published in Telegraph Journal’s Salon Books on January 11, 2014
By Roewan Crowe
(Arbeiter Ring Books)
By Shannon Webb-Campbell for the Telegraph Journal
Roewan Crowe’s debut long poem Quivering Land, wrangles up violence and trauma in the lasso of a queer Western. Juxtaposed with visual artist Paul Robles’ gorgeous paper-cut images of birds, guns, cowboy hats, and horses, these poems conjure memory, old Hollywood westerns, devastation, and the colonization of the west.
Crowe introduces the poetic work within a feminist framework with three epigraphs by literary legends Adrienne Rich, Nicole Brassard, and Marguerite Duras. In the collection’s first poem, “Her Western Landscape,” she introduces Clem, who is sitting in the house her father built on the edge of town, and carries us through the narrative of Quivering Land.
Within the fragments of loss, abuse, and a western landscape, Crowe interprets Clem’s journey with conviction. In the poem, “Drifting Along Tumbling Tumbleweed,” Crowe writes, “She thinks about the rugged hero, dangerous and lonely with thickened scars and a hidden past that keeps busting through the narrative.”
Within a queer lens, Crowe raises important questions of gender, sexuality, and the various shards of identity. She asks what are the lines drawn on land, the markings on bodies, and brutality of survival.
In “Shifting Ground,” she writes, “land giving way with weight of family, history/ the stone formations holding Clem/ collapse dramatically/ form aching canyon.”
Where language quivers, it’s the lines between the lines; the landscape of Crowe’s poetry that distills memory, meaning and loss. Quivering Land captures the endless shadows a western sunset truly casts.
Shannon Webb-Campbell is CWILA’s Critic-in-Residence for 2014. She is a Canadian writer, poet, and arts journalist. Currently, she is earning her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Colombia, and holds an English Literature and Journalism degree from Dalhousie University. Her writing has appeared in the top Canadian magazines, anthologies and quarterlies such as Riddle Fence, Quill and Quire, and Room, among many others. She is working on a book of short fiction, as well as a collection of poetry. She grew up outside of Toronto, calls Newfoundland home, and lives in the north end of Halifax.