Admittedly, I picked up George Sipos’ debut collection, Anything but the Moon, because of the cover. Something about the duotone blue grove of trees in mist caught my attention. The simplicity of it, I think; or, the solitude. And while the poems certainly are not simple, there is an overwhelming sense of solitude within these pages.
The poems in this collection are like moments of amber, perfectly caught; they are self-contained lyrics, with little to no narrative overlap, and many of them, as if to highlight their own independence, are only a page long. Sipos’ tonal range is subtle, typically contemplative as he looks for meaning in the natural or the quotidian world:
The stories of summer must be true –
the way the sun
rises already hot at 6:00 a.m.,
how its light is filtered green along the fenceline,
how kernels swell in seedheads,
timothy and fescue bending
to the recursive
of the nameable world.
(“The Syntax of Summer” 16)
I enjoyed the poems early in the book the most; they are casual and meditative (like most of the poems in the collection), but there is an element of novelty, of fun, that eschews the seriousness of the later pieces:
[The chickens] cluck a little, shit, refuse to dream.
In the morning you find them jostling
by the gate. Rickshaw drivers
desperate to take you anywhere, they invent
frantic itineraries in the dirt
(beak, pinfeathers, claw, whatever you want),
make you feel rich
as you scatter the small change
of an indifferent husbandry.
As you progress through the book, however, you’ll find that Sipos is a nature poet writing poems I would describe as “contemporary pastoral.” Focusing on the natural world and the seasons, these poems (like the book’s cover) are typically unpopulated by other people. Even when other characters do enter the picture, the relationships are often described in terms of the natural world:
All winter we dream of spring:
what I’ll say
what you’ll reply
how it will be –
a warm wind, water
glistening at eaves, daylight on the brink
once again, of fragrance.
This is the major fault of the book, however: too much of the same. The individual poems lose their distinctiveness among so many trees and fields, grasses and lakes. The book is awash in the verdancy of British Columbia wilderness, and it suffers for it. Certainly, the poems are well-written. Many are subtle, sophisticated, and enjoyable, but they aren’t often memorable because of the way the landscape of one poem bleeds into the next. However, when Sipos does deviate from the pastoral, he gives us something more powerful and unique, as in his anti-violence poem “Laundry Day”:
…reload the bombers with nuns,
send them wimpling over the suburbs to fall
like black-and-white blessings, their
beads clinking benediction,
In the end, Anything but the Moon covers familiar ground. Its descriptions, when precise, are vivid and true to life, and Sipos’ lyric style can be quite enjoyable. Readers looking for raw, gritty, urban poetry won’t find it here. Rather, this is a long hike through the woods, and is meant for nature lovers. Wear your proper shoes; pack a lunch.
Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his partner Erin and their three cats — Finnegan, Pickles, and Claude — in Gleichen, Alberta, a small farming community an hour east of Calgary.