by Karen Connelly
For the second in my series of reviews related to the International Festival of Authors Thunder Bay events comes another poetry collection, Come Cold River by Karen Connelly. In comparison to Country Club, Connelly forgoes the large range of topics McGuire covers in his poems to pursue a more vivid, narrative verse. While the early mordant wit on display firmly grabbed my attention, her masterful play of rhyme, rhythm, and this narration came together to showcase a poet who most definitely knows the craft.
And Connelly is careful with her rhymes throughout Come Cold River. While they are sometimes highly structured, they are much more often peppered throughout the lines and inconsistent, even absent through large swaths, but they’re never so jarring that they ruin the picture, the rhythm, or the flow. Interestingly, her handling of rhyme in her collection is so subtle that I didn’t recognize a great deal of it until my second read-through, in which it became apparent that she often plays with similar sounds for long stretches rather than forcing tight rhymes. The end result both stays out of the way of the narration and lends much to the success of the musical nature of a number of poems.
Now comes the part of the review in which I make some grand declarations about the deeper meanings within the work and likely misinterpret large swaths simultaneously: I took it upon myself to try and identify common themes amongst the three parts to Come Cold River. In the first part (“Home for Good”), it was less one general idea that linked everything together, but more of an overarching narrative. We start with a questioning of what the home is and where one’s place is within it. It progresses to something of a horror when the ugliness of the home is uncovered, but the author seems to accept that it’s home, nonetheless, and starts to understand either what must be borne to belong, or finds a purpose that must be fulfilled to make living there worthwhile. The theme of Part 2 (“Awake”) proved more elusive to me, but appeared to involve the guilt associated with using sex to satisfy love and lust without conceiving, perhaps feeling selfish at the end of it all. And, in the third part (“The Last Shelter”), the author seems to bring up the ways people shelter themselves from the truth, later demonstrating the abuses and filth people are exposed to on the other side, that go ignored––though I will admit that the specific mention of “the last shelter” in “Shelter on the Banks of the Bow” seems to imply that it’s more related to being the only refuge in a cruel world.
The great thing is that, even if I’m interpreting this nothing like Connelly originally intended, whatever the reader takes away from a book is a part of the experience that can’t be discounted. And, the fact that I came away from Come Cold River with so much interesting things to think about makes it clear to me that it was something significant.