Goose Lane Editions - March 04, 2007 - 0 Comments

Tacoma Narrows

Tacoma Narrows by Mitchell Parry

Reviewed by Jenna Butler

Mitchell Parry’s Tacoma Narrows is a finely-focused collection that finds, in the minutiae of life, a deep and enduring connection to larger issues and emotions. Parry’s poems are humble and yet startlingly beautiful. They revisit, time and again, the courage and balance required to love truly and with meaning, whether in the sense of love for another person or love for the small moments in everyday life that momentarily stop the breath.

The collection opens strongly with the section entitled “Faithless.” Here, in the poem “Night Wind,” Parry’s own courage as poet and observer/participant is evident:

[…] In the next room
a woman’s voice opens,
I think of you.

Outside my window an elk steps,
bends & nibbles. Her valentine rump,
that mouth, the heartbreak of her ankles. In the distance
men’s shouting fights the wind
& loses. She ignores them, moves from one blade
of grass to the next.

There is no long, slow immersion into this collection; the start is as abrupt and brief as a plummet into cold water. The language itself, however, and the aching beauty of the imagery, serves to take the shock out of the initial plunge. Parry does not hesitate to begin the book with a meditation on love and loss — the separation brought about by a failed relationship, the intangibility of the cycles and inhabitants of the natural world.

One common thread that draws the collection together is the concept of gift-giving. Rather than a simple material exchange, Parry expands the notion to include gifts of inspiration, memory, and insight. In “Parlez-moi d’amour,” abstraction and concrete meet in the form of the gift of a tattoo bought by a loved one, in a relationship that then falls to pieces:

[…] On your back

is a tattoo I paid for. Le moineau. I like pain,
you told the man who needled it into your skin. This is my gift
to you: a sparrow who will fade
slowly over the years but never fly
away. Singing what all gifts sing: Here.

I am.

This notion of gift-giving extends to the naming and recognizing of emotions in order to reduce pain and begin the healing process. In “Self Taught,” the loser in a cat fight is likened to the author himself, and to all those who have fought and lost someone close:

[…] The loser vanishes.
Go outside and find him – under a car,
hiding in the woods, it doesn’t matter.
Sing to him (this is imperative). Coax him
with songs of nonsense or loss (it doesn’t matter).
When he comes to you, look at the ache
in his eyes. Name it.

It is not so much what is said, but how — the calling into being of a certain emotion by simple recognition. Parry suggests that there are never words to take the pain out of loss, but that a look, a touch, or even a bit of nonsense offered in comfort, can prove the catalyst to healing. Without the recognition that loss has occurred, the healing process itself is unable to begin.

There is an edge to the beauty in Parry’s poetry, an awareness of the brevity of life and the swiftness with which it can be taken away. This extends from an appreciation for the subtle things in nature to an actual physical awareness of mechanisms within the body not functioning the way they should, as in “Perilous Breathing”:

Drowning in surfeit
of air, o gasp-eyed mullet,
you cannot
to breathe.
This breath:
        or this – . Could be


At times, the pain present in these poems becomes acute, lances through the words and imagery like white-hot wire. There is a tremendous balancing act going on in this collection: the struggle to maintain a love for life and a clarity of seeing and thinking, while at the same time experiencing tremendous emotional and physical turmoil. As Parry states in “Elegy for Two Greek Kittens”:

   To have come so far
following the faint scent of adventure
& failed reunions
only to find always, 

always the wide pink mouth of need
crying at dawn. Three weeks
of ringworm    mewling   shit & our best efforts
dying quickly & painfully as all
hopes & battered things die: open-mouthed,


Tacoma Narrows is a beautiful collection, speaking elegantly of love and loss, and the many ways to keep loving through pain. It is “Ragged Hymns – While You Were Away,” I believe, that captures the essence of this book:

Listen: there is no flight –
only falling endlessly deferred. Stumbling open-armed
is not longing, is stumbling only. All I know of desire
cannot extend beyond this bare bulb, spirals of dust
and smoke. A bird lost in the night,
hoping song can light its way home.

Jenna Butler is an educator and poet who makes her home in Edmonton. Her work has garnered a number of awards, including CBC’s Alberta Anthology, and has been widely published in journals, anthologies and literary magazines in Canada and abroad. She is the founding editor of Rubicon Press.

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