Five Red Sentries

Bill Robertson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, June 29, 2019
Regina poet Raye Hendrickson is also a massage therapist, and I can easily imagine her pushing and pulling the poems in Five Red Sentries (Thistledown, $12.95) into shape with a vigour often revealed in the strenuous reach of her verbs and adjectives. While “Sand thrashes water,” she “wrestle(s) with (her) hood,” “sand pelts (her) body,” and “the wind” is “a roaring avalanche, waterfall thunder.” So goes “Birds Blown Sideways, Qu’Appelle Valley.”

In “Fragments from Hubble,” “ReVision,” “The Curiosity of Water,” and “When It All Began” her lively language works its way to a delighted eroticism, while in “To the Dunes,” sweating all the way, she asks, “How else can joy be worn?” and throws off her clothes, “Nothing/ between me and the earth.” And here’s a fun mouthful: “Flax cracks its jaw and smacks its lips as it tracks/ grasshoppers waxing their legs.”

Hendrickson’s poems vary in size and shape, some small like “Flax” and the very good and woefully familiar “Home for Thanksgiving,” others, like “Lament,” nearly a page and quiet, breathing into its elegiac content. Sadly, she can’t resist the urge to re-tell the loss of “Lament” in “What Is Left,” weakening the power of the first. “Markers,” like “What Is Left,” allows itself too much sentimentality. She knows how to say it with power and precision, as in “Winter,” but we all need room in many ways for grief.

Five Red Sentries, like many a first collection, tries everything at once to see what works. A few don’t, but many do.

— Bill Robertson