Swimming with Turtles

canadian literature ubc, spring 2015 - queer frontiers, #224

"This Transitive Age"

These collections address the gifts and stresses of aging and dislocation.

Doug Beardsley aggregates a travelogue from sojourns in Mexico, the Caribbean and the Pacific, aspiring to be more than a “towel-toting tourist . . . snorkeling without getting wet” and aiming toward a poetry of immersive encounter, “determined to become” the resistant diversities of culture and of place through which he passes, to recover “spirit.” “In the morning,” the opening lyric begins, “we don’t know where we are.” The poems want to work through that uncertainty, not necessarily to overcome it so much as to accommodate human plurality, a change Beardsley sees as necessary if, as a species, “we’re going to survive.” Each of these lyrics is “seeking more than we can experience,” an openness to diversity. Robert Louis Stevenson figures this accepting immersion, managing (Beardsley imagines) to acquire “uncommon words from his mysterious world” late in life in Samoa. Beardsley sometimes leaves a conjunction or ampersand hanging at the end of a line, as if to signal this acquisitive openness. He tends to fetishize the indigenous—witnessing “sacred dances . . . becoming the thing itself,” for instance—but also acknowledges, a little like McFadden, the inevitable shortfall of late colonial English (counterpointing his name to the “inventive, ringing, singing” names of Latin American poets). Despite yearning for release, his work remains shackled by romanticizing an uninterrogated “authenticity” he attributes to his others.

— Kevin McNeilly, Canadian Literature