Questions for Wolf Reviews

CANADIAN LITERATURE, 232, DECEMBER 2017 (Excerpted)In Questions for Wolf, Quinn writes in a lively free verse packed with medical, natural, sexual, and religious images as these pertain to the development of selfhood—the book can, in a reductive sense, be read as the details of how a mentally ill speaker became relatively comfortable in the world. Problematically, the big-hearted moments can become uncontrolled. For example, the rather palpitatingly titled poem “Strong Roots in Casual Devastation” begins: “Our night sky inspired a wild fidelity / in her safe cracking thunder—mercy for loud goodbyes / and other dark geography of our mouths.” A little much. But it’s probably her strategy to reach transcendent moments like the following, taken from “be found not saved”:

choose your small vanities carefully
for these are the burning times
and you have not been cast in a starring role
in this end of the world apocalyptic scenario
know that perception is simply facts on a sliding scale
and you are a small beautiful principality
at an already overcrowded table[.]

The same risk of overswinging is involved in both aforementioned poems, but in the latter Quinn’s speaker is tough on the self, providing labile emotion a necessary counter in wisdom.

Reviewed by Shane Neilson

room magazine, may 2016 (issue 39.2)

“Do you ever eat when you’re not hungry?” reads the opening line of Questions for Wolf by Toronto’s Shannon Quinn. It’s a fitting introduction to a slim collection that explores desire, temptation, and (often unsatisfied) hunger.

Questions for Wolf is the debut collection of poetry for Quinn, who has been published in many literary journals, among them Room. It is part of Thistledown Press’s New Leaf Series, which is devoted to books by emerging writers. Questions for Wolf is one of four books published in the series in 2015.

The characters in Questions for Wolf are diverse, but they share similarities. They’re young women hungry for a place to fit in. They surrender to their desires: sex, drugs, or cigarettes. They’re self-destructive and lonely. Questions for Wolf is a book about “sparse expectations,” budding sexuality, and innocence lost. It’s about the small personal rebellions—climbing out of windows and into the passenger seats besides “boys who drive cars”—that define youth.

Rife with metaphors, the subject matter in Questions for Wolf can be bleak and uncomfortable, but somewhere beneath the despair and confusion, there’s hope, coupled with tender and delicate prose: “Words caught / like barn swallows in a net / frantic, / begin to form/ forbidden phrases,” says the narrator in “In My Room at Night (age 17).”

We all know the anxieties that plague youth. We’ve all been there, calming our fears about the future by describing what we’re not going to become. “I don’t want to be gentle / or wear the practical footwear / of common goals or / join the queue / to pull a ticket to collect on insufficient blessings,” says the narrator in “Beast.”

The women in Questions for Wolf are strong and street smart. They’re quick witted and defiant, but they’re saddled with regret. In one particularly affecting poem, “Regret,” the narrator reflects on her “militia,” or rather the “people I broke by accident”: “I am responsible/ for remembering the parts of our history that hurt,” she says.

Thistledown Press’s description of Questions for Wolf says the collection “explores desire and memory, examining the damaged lives of characters.” However, these characters aren’t damaged. They’re painfully human. They’re weighted with the desires and insecurities that routinely pockmark the lives of girls and young women, especially those existing in the margins.

— Jessica Rose

saskbooks reviews, may 3, 2016

Questions for Wolf is a collection of poetry in Thistledown Press’s New Leaf Series. In these haunting, often savage lines, Shannon Quinn evokes not only those who have been exploited, silenced and murdered, but all women. The images are so delicate, yet complex, it is best they speak for themselves. First there are the children: “younger girls fly by/lost in the magical history/of secondhand bikes/all tassels and pigtails . . .” and close by there’s “. . . a circle of girls too young to be with boys who drive cars. . .”.

Then come the evils of “sparse expectations,” “a list/of inner-city mortifications/that comes with being poor and a girl”. Quinn knows the drive for something better and the desire for love and attention: “Boys see you for the first time/They see you they see you they see you/gliding mid-flight/Can’t touch you/Can almost touch you”.

Such vulnerability leads to ruin, and yet: “I don’t want to be gentle/or wear the comfortable footwear/of common goals/or join the queue/to pull a ticket to collect on insufficient blessings”. Addiction too begins with the promise of wonder, and ends with the need for “commerce”: “my stiletto signals are answered by the dull thud of men’s shoes”.

Some images suggest contemporary violence against women. It’s easy to read Robert Picton’s crimes in the lines of “The Field”: “Here lie the bodies, here the bellies . . . This is the field that was mined . . .”

Though such phrases beg for an emotional response, this is not romanticizing the victim. Rather, Quinn seems to speak of the dark places in all women’s experience. Here is the choice that is no contest, between leaving “to swim/in the dark glitter of dead stars” and staying “to chase pot roasts and roses . . .”. In the risk-taker’s life, blood and violence are never far away: “. . . bruises that faded to yellow/and left so quickly/I never knew them in their proper shade of blue”, but so is ambivalence: “and I’m still not sure if it’s you I should have been”.

If Quinn’s woman makes dangerous choices, she doesn’t dwell in regret: “A million miles of white for the girl I meant to be”. She could remember “that tired history of secret wishes/all the goods [she] could have been,” but she doesn’t. She insists on being “found not saved” and says, “Your boat is too small for our revolution”.

Quinn also claims a wordless kinship between women and animals, not only in the title poem “Questions for Wolf”, but in many others. (This reminds me of Greek mythology, of Jason and Medea. Jason is cerebral, while Medea represents what is wild, instinctive and of the flesh). The metaphor is painful, as in “. . . our ferocity . . . learning to sit with begging thoughts”, but this animalism also gives Quinn’s woman the power to survive: “But oh look at you now/nostrils flaring/chuffing your breath”. So ultimately, paradoxically, there is hope.

— Allison Kydd, SaskBooks Reviews