#755 Seismophobia and quicksilver

Near Miss: Poems
by Laura Matwichuk

Gibsons: Nightwood Editions, 2019
$18.95 / 9780889713536

Reviewed by Heidi Greco

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Worrier that I am, opening to the first pages of Near Miss, I find myself right at home, greeted by a list of dates, from 1700 through to 2012. My paranoid side recognizes these immediately as dates when BC has experienced notable seismic events, earthquakes ranging from substantial to the catastrophic. Not surprisingly, one of the poems later on in the book bears the title “Seismophobia.”

Our lives are fragile, more so than most of us realize, a fact that was pounded home this winter when my husband’s youngest brother dropped dead from his first heart attack. Now, when I hear sirens, I fear the worst, almost expecting the victim to be someone I know. Luckily, Matwichuk’s awareness of life’s fragility is less fraught than my own but, nonetheless, clearly evident.

The three main sections of Near Miss, Insomnia, Interior, and Inferno, might not sound exactly tempting to anyone but those who are already awake — alert to the plight we’re all in on this planet, so naked to the chaos of space and to the carelessness of our acts and inactions.

Laura Matwichuk, 2013. Photo by Katrina Afonso

The near misses referred to by the book’s title include close calls for airplanes — with each other, with mechanical failure, with mountains. We’re reminded that Earth itself is under steady threat from asteroids, as reported by alerts on the Torino scale – a way of categorizing potential Earth impact events — with its own version of amber alerts. There are the near misses Matwichuk deals with when it comes to the rigours of pregnancy, or even the aftermath of having a tooth pulled. As they say, it’s all a crapshoot.

The poems in this collection are made up of dreams, excerpts from scientific reports, and memories sure to resonate with many. A poem called “Home Stretch” is a good example of just how rooted in the Lower Mainland Matwichuk is. The (then newly-constructed) Port Mann Bridge replacement serves as one of those familiar reference points, and also as reference point for a long-standing love relationship.

Because subject matter in Near Miss shifts around like quicksilver, it’s a pleasure to note one of the many constants that appear and reappear: reading. “I read medical journals / for my job, which might be worse,” and “You are reading a boring article about squalls when the power cuts.” And there’s a whole raft of reading references (with even a terrific quote from Charlie Brown) in “Here Comes the Future,” an amazing poem that might be the touchstone for the book with its “I read books about pancake landings / and wind shears.”

This collection is up-to-the-minute contemporary, and Matwichuk’s skilful use of erasure technique creates segues that lead the reader forward, as we look for safer ground. Happily, course corrections are not required, as solid ground is indeed what we find ourselves standing on, shaky though the firmament above may occasionally seem, for this is a book that “…has taught me something about / the direction we’re headed, the suddenly / shifting energy of what we know.”

Laura Matwichuk, 2019. Photo by Jonathan Bitze

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Heidi Greco. Photo by George Omorean

Heidi Greco’s most recent book is Practical Anxiety, a collection of poems from Inanna Publications (2018). Her previous books are Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart (Caitlin Press, 2017) and Shrinking Violets (Quattro Books, 2011). She also edited From the Heart of it All: Ten Years of Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Otter Press, 2018), reviewed by Yvonne Blomer in The Ormsby Review (No. 533, April 20, 2019). Heidi has previously reviewed books by bill bissett, Sarah de Leeuw, and Patricia Young for The Ormsby Review. Heidi lives in Surrey, B.C. For more, please visit her website.

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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for serious coverage of B.C. books and authors, hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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