Terminal Moraine is an apt title for this first collection of poetry by a promising young poet. It sounds like an illness, and this is intentional, referring not only to what's left of glaciers, which right now are melting too fast and severing our links with the past, but metaphorically, to all the ruins left in the wake of our passing. Many of the poems are songs of mourning for our dead— turtles, muskox, the dodo, a dragonfly killed in a collision with a car, “Earth itself industrialized” (52), barnacles ripped from a rock and admired for a while, then left to die on the beach when the poet goes home “heavy with the sad/ and monstrous knowledge that the power/ I used to pluck from their rock equaled/ neither my power to restore/ nor my newfound desire to redeem.” (11)
Yet the poet does much more than weep and gnash his teeth. “There's so much beauty in the world, son;/ prepare to be overwhelmed,” he tells his soon to be born child. The lynx, which crosses the highway in front of the poet's car one night, reminds him “about the possible renewal/ of even an ordinary stretch of road” (14). The bison suddenly emerging from the fog on Alaska Highway, “from the last free-range herd,” (16) hypnotizes him to feel like an animal caged in his car. The pine siskins, the parasitic growth on a spruce tree, first mountain crocus, a mushroom appearing on the edge of asphalt, the squid, are only a few examples of what inspires the poet's awe and keeps hope alive.
Juxtaposed against these fragile wonders are the seemingly more solid man-made objects—the tank, the windmill, the bulldozer, fireplace, “insatiable” pump jack, bridge, ship. Well, maybe not so solid. The image of the decommissioned ships being turned into scrap at a wrecking yard in Bangladesh is a haunting one, especially as there is no human presence in evidence. It is nicely contrasted with a much more humane process in “Tearing Down an Old Barn.” “The wood/ will groan as you pry each board/ from its crossbeam. Each piece a harmony/ of grains flowing around the knots, nails/ singing a elegy for remembered seasons./ A hint of green visible through barn ribs.” (29) The only object that holds up against the poet's scrutiny is the bicycle, which through all its transformations, remains “sweat-fueled”(57).
The world's beauty, its inevitable destruction, our inability to restore even as we attempt to recycle—”We can only reclaim so much barn board/ for furniture or to frame a painting”(29)—are popular themes, but Letourneau avoids the pitfalls of emotionalism and proselytizing and offers instead a thoughtful, intellectually satisfying ride. He is interested in transformations, as in how a fertile field becomes a wind farm, or an apple becomes an apple core, “the apple's perfect globe gives way/ to the hourglass of appetite.” (51) His machines—the tank, the bulldozer, the bike—acquire a form of soul under his pen. The squid, which when threatened has the ability to create an almost perfect replica of itself with ink, becomes a metaphor for the poet, who can simulate “the substance of a soul.” (30)
Most of the poems are written in free verse but we are offered a few examples of form poetry, like the sonnet and paradelle (parody of a villanelle). My favourite is the short and poignant “Dragonfly: a Triolet.” Letourneau has a good ear, my only advice to him is to take more risks in the future with the way words play with and against each other on the page.
This is a slim book but very much worth having on one's book shelf. — Anna Mioduchowska
Anna Mioduchowska is a poet, translator, author of stories, essays and book reviews, Her most recent work appears in Eying the Magpie, a collection of poetry published jointly with four fellow poets.
Letourneau has a whole lot going on in this slender collection, as he mixes science and art—looking for the soul in the machine, or anywhere, for that matter; as he contemplates his newborn son and the world that will open out before him; as he measures himself as a poet against translations and various poetic forms, including the sonnet, the paradelle (a parody of a villanelle), and the prose photograph; and as he offers up praise to various things that catch his eye: photographs, geographical features (note the collection’s title), and the humble fireplace:
“O let’s praise the combustible creature ... ”
Letourneau, like recent poetic forbears Christopher Dewdney, Tim Lilburn, and Don McKay, is intellectually equipped to go headlong into the scientific world with a philosophical head of steam and a spiritual magnifying glass.
In Fireplace, for instance, he contemplates said mechanical contrivance, praising its genius, then ends the poem by talking of reverence for “the embers of coal-/ like residue, the ash that once was dragon’s soul,” while in Bow River Valley he writes of a dead soldier being burned on a bier, “allowing/ the spirit to rise in columns of smoke.”
Letoumeau trains his gaze on the moment of transformation, of one thing becoming another, “the apple’s perfect globe giv[ing] way/ to the hourglass of appetite,” the tank “rumbling into an iron metamorphosis,” and, in Bicycle, the “paradox of/ transforming body into engine.” And still, after all these scientific observations, in Eating Ice Cream, he admits “the sky is a nursery/ of stars, of which our knowledge remains inexact.”
There are machines, there are apples, children, and terminal moraines, and there is the soul, the spirit. Letourneau examines where one meets the other and the mystery that’s left after we’ve explained all we can. — Bill Robertson
In 2008, Thistledown Press celebrated the release of its 10th New Leaf Editions Series of poetry books by first-time authors, and what a celebration it was. At the launch — arguably among SK's top literary events of the year — one of four poets on stage was Ian LeTourneau, a former Maritimer now living in Athabasca AB. With new book in hand, LeTourneau transported listeners with the unique music only a finely-tuned poem can make.
Terminal Moraine is a landmark book. It entertains and ferries readers to the “otherworld” poetry inhabits, but it could also be well-used in writing workshops, as LeTourneau's poems have much to teach us. Reversals (ie: the tide, time, memory), renewals, and re-ordering predominate, but within these themes there exists great diversity in subject, tone, and form.
Aside from the free verse favoured by many contemporary poets, LeTourneau also incorporates sonnets, odes (ie: “Fireplace” and “Bicycle”), a paradelle, a triolet, and couplets. There are translations (from the French); poems inspired by other poets; by photographs; music; landscapes; family; and friends. More specifically, the found poem, “Wind Farm,” credits the “'Canadian Wind Energy Association' pamphlet” as a source. I love this. It demonstrates how poetry exists all around us; we need only be open to it.
Nature is integral in this work. Birds, bison, bear, squid, and muskox are at home among poems of place and personal philosophies. Look at the way this poet sees: in “A Cubist View of the Saint John River,” he writes of the river as “a factory of ice”. The poem “Ordinary Day at the Beach” — both about and not about barnacles — delivers “the shells in my hands like new words,half-submerged in new meaning.” And in “Turtle”: “There is no place for us to retreatexcept to the sea of ideas, and daily he mind is trawling up more and more turtles”. Single images – “A sail pregnant with wind,” sky as “a nurseryof stars” — and sounds — “Gravel crunches like candles” reveal that this young poet has a seasoned eye and ear.
I also admire the juxtapositions. In “Unidentified Birds,” the poet writes of black and white warblers: “They constantly escape he two rings of my binoculars' vision.Like those nephews or nieces who fidgetout of photographs at weddingsor family reunions, they're beyond my control.” A bowl of blueberries and ice cream becomes “Mountainswith a setting sun” and “decomposing butterflies.”
Jewels in this collection include “Silver,” and “Sleep,” two poems that in very few lines capture a simple grace; and “Kinds of Apple #9 (Golden Delicious),” which, like other pieces in this collection, is almost “painterly”.
There is a great deal to delight in here, from delicious words (ie: “supernovae,” “armamentarium,” “travertine,” “inglenook,” “proboscis,” and “velocopedes”) to thoughtful meditations on what it is to be human, and to bring another human — the poet is a relatively new father — into the “journey.” Broad, intelligent, resonant — LeTourneau's Terminal Moraine and Thistledown Press prove that literary publishing in Saskatchewan is alive, well, and undeniably worthwhile.
— Shelley A. Leedahl
Terminal Moraine is lan LeTourneau s first trade collection of poetry, and his pet themes are Canadian mainstays— family relations, but especially the experience of nature while hiking, bird watching or driving the Trans-Canada Highway. With such middle-of-the-road subject matter, the burden of interestingness passes to craft and imaginative verve, and Terminal Moraine contains many poems that succeed in this respect, but also many that do not.
Some poems exhibit flaws that fall into three general categories: cliched sentiments or expressions, didacticism, and/or flat and expected diction. Cliches occur especially where the poetic speaker addresses his children:
for instance in "Bath" — "These chores will never go away. / Yet one day you will," and again in "Unidentified Birds" — "There's so much beauty in the world, son; / prepare to be overwhelmed." In some poems, such as "Bears," "Unidentified Birds," and "Ordinary Day at the Beach," the narrator offers a moral or lesson that would be better conveyed tacitly by tone, image, or scene. But by far the most irksome quality of some of these poems results from missed opportunities for unexpected and exciting language. This is especially true of some of the descriptions of animals, such as in "Bears" and in "Identification," which describes a lynx: "tufted ears, oversized paws, / thick tawny fur." Such descriptions invite unfavourable comparison with similar passages from Ted Hughes or Don McKay, where language surprises and stretches the imagination.
What makes these lapses so unfortunate is that LeTourneau is capable of more-engaging poetry. Many of his poems contain excellent, often subtle sound- and rhythm-craft: for instance, in "Pump Jacks" — "you imagine the blurred wringing of hands, / the drool of oil from the effortless labour." In some poems, LeTourneau brings all of his musical and metaphoric ability to bear on a mundane subject and makes it look easy to dazzle. For instance, the collections opening poem, "A Cubist View of the Saint John River," deftly deploys a number of sonic devices like alliteration and assonance while simultaneously developing a complex play on memory and futurity — the result is metaphorical depth that rewards rereading. Other excellent poems in the collection, such as "Oil Fields #24," "Aurora Chorus," and "Song for the Muskox," make the reader look forward to LeTourneau s next, hopefully more consistent, collection. — Jesse Patrick Ferguson