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Poem of the week: Canada by Katherine Stansfield

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A hymn to the elemental power of the country’s raw landscape, this is also a lonely variety of love poem

Canada, from Katherine Stansfield’s lively first collection, Playing House, has some of the restless vocal complexity of a Baroque fugue. A more obvious literary relative would be the sestina. In fact, Canada seems to adapt a few sestina-like techniques, while firmly announcing that, no, it’s not a sestina, nor would wish to be. For a start, there are five rather than six-and-a-half stanzas, each with seven lines rather than six: the lines vary in length so, visually, the poem has an un-sestina-like rugged (mountainous?) outline. It sings more than most sestinas. But both fugue and sestina are forms constrained by fixed rules of repetition. Canada has multiple repetands, but no obvious symmetrical plot for their appearance (unless sharper ears than mine can discern one).

The patterns flow and change. For example, some form of the verb, to run, appears in every stanza, in lines two, seven, five, one, six, whereas the forms of pine, which features both as noun (“pines” as in pine-trees) and verb (“pining”) appear in lines three, four, five, four, four. The first line of the first stanza comes back as the last, with a new grammatical twist – but that twist, involving a full-stop and a single word beginning a new sentence, stops short of becoming a repeated last-line device. The random element seems important, in keeping with the organic nature of the imagery. Words and meanings are at liberty to dissolve like snow, or maintain their shape for longer, like rock.

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