A Map in My Blood Reviews

canadian literature, 232, december 2017 (ExCERpt)

The poetry in Carla Braidek’s 2016 collection, A Map in My Blood, showcases Braidek’s ability to connect the seemingly innocuous (and yet deeply profound) moments of everyday life to the broader patterns of time, nature, and ancestry. In the opening piece of the collection, moments such as children playing in a sandbox, or the speaker visiting different friends and cities, are aligned with the larger-scale passing of time: “castles dissolve in the slow / rains of summer,” while “Trish and I wove between children / and cars on our way to the park.” Similarly, in “A Matter of Waiting,” the scene of the speaker setting the table with her son mirrors the movements of the natural world, as “it’s all a matter of waiting / while the tree grows roots then branches.” The indiscernible fabric of time, the interconnectedness of the natural world, and the lingering presence of ancestral spirits (which come to form “a map in my blood”) are also reflected in the objects that surround the speaker, which carry the weight of memory: the “glass mouths” of milk and beer bottles near an abandoned ’65 Ford “take the wind / to form words” of “all our lives / being sung.” Each poem in A Map in My Blood evokes a sense of “peak experience”—where the metaphysical, even mystical, can be found in the mundane—offering a glimpse into the mind of an attuned and highly skilled poet.

Reviewed by Emily Bednarz

room magazine, 39.3, october 2016

The first poem in Carla Braidek's second collection of poetry, A Map in My Blood, is aptly called "Where do I begin?" Braidek, who lives and writes in the boreal forest near Big River, Saskatchewan, begins with a broken ankle: "the slip on the wet ramp / how my toes went under / the bone snapped and I / threw myself back." It is the first of many poems to explore the fragile and unpredictable relationship between humans and the natural world. 

Loosely chronological, A Map in My Blood first seeps with innocence, recalling the unremarkable (but memorable) moments that dot a childhood — tumbling and cart-wheeling over grassy terrain, pitching pebbles during hopscotch, and catching "one another jumping from roofs / when wings wouldn't sprout." However, as childhood fades, so does Braidek's optimistic tone. Feet and toy cars no longer traverse the prairie landscapes, and are instead replaced by pick-up trucks and trains. "when I smell wild sage and tar / I think of rails through prairie / slicing it open / letting out the deep earth smell," writes Braidek in "Steel Spins On."

A Map in My Blood is a collection about growth. It chronicles the changes that characterize trees, neighbourhoods, and seasons; but more importantly, it explores the changes in our own lives as childhood fades into memory. "usually the sweep of tamarack on my shoulder / slows me and I begin to unwind" writes Braidek in "Looking." "but today I am a cocoon of worry / not ready to morph into peace / so I walk / looking outward / avoiding myself."

Braidek's curiosity and her deep appreciation for the natural world is infectious. Through careful attention to detail and a keen sense of place, A Map in My Blood is subtly impactful, forcing readers to examine their own relationships with the world around them, evoking long forgotten memories of a time before hyperconnectivity. 

The third-to-last poem in A Map in My Blood, "We're the big kids now," offers an emotional appeal, a warning for each reader to remember: "we fly from meeting to conference / rush in the door when we finally reach home / only to pick up the phone / flick on a computer we forget to play."

Rooted in nostalgia, A Map in My Blood excels in the subtleness of Braidek's shifting tone, moving seamlessly between contentment and unease; optimism and pessimism. Graceful and lyrical, A Map in My Blood is quietly triumphant.

— Jessica Rose

 saskatoon starphoenix, june 18, 2016

The poetry of Carla Braidek, in her second collection, A Map In My Blood, can be sweepingly summed up in three words: women, work, and winter. None of this generalization is surprising considering she lives in the boreal forest near Big River, Saskatchewan.  Poem after poem valorizes, and justly so, the hard and often acknowledged work women do, not only of donning the gloves — as in Fingers Like Wings — and fencing, but in getting the food on the table, seeing to the kids, or feeling the sadness, the frustration, of giving up on certain dreams, then casting anger aside and getting on with the work. 

Much of that whole set of feelings can be summed up in her opening poem, Where Do I Begin?: "with the broken ankle ... or should I start with breakfast ... how do we know where a moment begins?" A poem nearby is entitled Acts of Balance, something every mother tries to do. Then, in Rules for Play and Field Stones she gives some of her farmer's creed: "I like it simple" and "more solid than the land you lifted them from." You don't go blowing away in a blizzard that way. 

Winter "bares her teeth" in poems such as Dream, Snowbound, and Winter Woman ("days tighten to nuggets of glass"), while poems late in the collection speak to the woman's anger at having to run out on herself. "All she craves is the sway of boxcars" she says in This Hunger and "I wish I was purchasing a ticket," in Steel Spins On. Sometimes, as in the lovely Looking, she just tries to walk out of herself, "looking outward/ avoiding myself," but then there's always a bit of reward, some of that balance she speaks of. In Homegrown Magic a neighbour, wonder of wonders, grows his own food and stores it through the winter. He is a true magician, and one that this woman of work and winter can appreciate. With similar magic, Braidek spins her unmet desires and winter blues into song. 

— Bill Robertson


SPG Reviews, june 9, 2016

Saskatchewan writer Carla Braidek’s most recent poetry demonstrates deep gratitude for the boreal forest in which she lives and the enviable life she’s made there, but, like anyone with the gift of imagination and the fancy of a dreamer, her emotional pendulum can’t help but swing toward “What if?”. Even the book’s title, A Map in my Blood, hints at the restlessness that currents beneath poems that celebrate the natural world and its creatures, family, food, the work of the land, childhood innocence, and rural living.

The opening poem, “Where Do I Begin,” sets the bar high. “Beginning” here can refer to the book itself or the spinning of a life’s tale. It’s also a phrase commonly used to express exasperation. I admire how the Big River poet begins with ordinary details-a broken ankle, helping fix a deck-then she takes an existential leap and asks: “how do we know where a moment begins?” This questioning ferries readers to a deeper level. A spark fires, we’re engaged, and committed to asking ourselves the same question about the details of our own lives. Making our own small worlds universally resonate is the key to successful poetry.

The poems swing between serenity and anxiousness, and at both extremes Braidek treats us to original images, ie: “anemones ghost the lane by the bridgeain dapples stones until appaloosa blanketsumple on hills beyond the pasture gate”. In “Fingers Like Wings,” she describes how work gloves that have fallen from pockets “trail on the path like bread crumbs marking, not the way back, but the place we fly forward from, fingers splayed into wind”. I love “a pot of daisies rises on the verandaone small sun reluctant to let summer go,” and her gorgeous image honoring “a man who keeps the sun in his pocket”. He is a gardener and preserver whose “jarsglow on their shelves with the intensityof a midsummer rainbow”. Easy to see this, and feel the quiet joy it transmits.

Braidek delivers glorious sensorial leaps, ie: “good wishes smellfaintly of oranges,” and a good deal of musicality, ie: “my neighbour’s corn is disappearingear by ear into the night”.

The restlessness is often indicated by hunger, ie: “one day I wake up ravenous,” and is voiced in lines like “she struggles with possibilitiesflips pages in her mind,” and “a void wants to be filled”.

We all hunger, but what’s described in “The Rock,” a narrative told in one long paragraph, is as close to my idea of utopia as it comes: a day on one’s own property with time to sit on the deck and watch the children play, then move to the campfire where vegetables and “moose strips” are roasted. The “dogs skulk at the edge of the yard, half crazy with the smell of fresh meat,” and as evening arrives the guitars and fiddles comes out, and the children settle onto laps by the fire. If only that were the tune of “all our liveseing sung,” what a happier world this would be.

— Shelley A. Leedahl, SaskBooks