Joan Crate’s much-anticipated third book of poetry is equal parts revision and reverie, offering a mid-life view of childhood influences and expectations that is stirring, startling, and wise. Deliciously invoking the iconic figure of Snow White, subUrban Legends considers what lies beyond youth and the trite promise of “happily ever after,” transporting readers to a land of complexity and nuance from which few cultural officiados report.close this panel
The OwlWhen our baby was just a few days old,earth-grounded, screaming, his cranberry legs pitching,stomach an oven of fire and stonewe took him for a drive. Wheels unwound the knotof his new flesh. I stroked a feathery cheekand watched as his fists loosened the world of sleep.We parked at the bird sanctuary, eased him into a strollerand walked under moonlight and branches,stars like cooled tears. Thenan owlripped out of midnight, swooped down—I grabbed my baby, clutched him to me.You just laughed, said a bird couldn’t snatcha human child, talked of proportionate weights and wingspan,your hand hooking my shoulder.So I didn’t tell you that owls are spirits of the unhappy dead.Thirsty for rivers of life, another shot of mortality,desperate refugees they strike, reachingfor that invisible cord that connectsthe great blue egg of the universeto him, to youto meBreak-upHow the snow fell that winterwe turned twelve, pressing usin a glittering cage wrapped in hush now,cold as our pretty little permafrost hearts.How numb we were.Feathers etched in the windowfell over our shoulders.I still have the scars, small white X’s and the neat Oof your mouth when I wiped the sad away.We shared every secret.Spring break-up came out of the blueand washed us from forecasts of lemon-pie suns.The men loaded your things in a truckand hand in hand we watched,nothing but touch to say.Everything melting, you had to leave fastbefore the road turned to muck and held you.Already the run-off was washing usfrom the dreams we once had of our selves,the MacKenzie choked and slobbering down our cheeks.Once-upon-a-time cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-diebest friend, have you kept your good strong teeth,shoplifted lipsticks, and used couponfor one happily ever after with its best before date?Over thirty years gone, little dreamer,and I still miss you.I need us back, pencil-thin and brimming.Nowadays I reach out and hold onto anything warm.(Sometimes when I close my eyes, it’s beautiful.)We can’t sleep.Another female fantasyhas moved in and taken our place.At the checkoutSnow White and I read the headlines:Wicked Witch Curses Princess with Century of Sleep.Another Prince Found Dead at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.We are outraged.Not because this upstart gets all the charming young menand media attention, but because she’s squeezed usout of the world of dreams.Eyes wide open, blind, Snow White and I are left nothingof nether land. All night long we pace, unable to recoverthe little men with their Freudian hats,their picks and jewels, allegory and archetype.Our Theta waves crumple,our psyches scream their names,and I’m coming down with a migraine.Snow White flipsthrough the phone booktrying to find a listing for her wicked stepmother,and I plead on my cell: Doc, don’t cut me off.Just a few more magical words on that notepad,your illegible signature.
“Joan Crate is the poet of our suburban dreams and our suburban nightmares. She turns daily experience into the stuff of shocking fairy tales and renewed legends. Line by eloquent line, her poems give voice to our stifling silences.” – Robert Kroetsch
"With easy wit and bitten lower lip, Joan Crate wakens us with empowering stories from her childhood, influenced by Métis wisdom and charms. subUrban Legends balances delinquent toughness with tough love, and doomed fantasies with the quiet determination “to create something—anything—from scraps.” But more than that, her down-home fix on these once-upon-a-characters draws us towards a sense of renewal called forth by an older collective—the incantatory voice of story itself. With each successive poem, she allows us sensuous and wise passage to and from both worlds."
Joan Crate is the poet of our suburban dreams and our suburban nightmares. She turns daily experience into the stuff of shocking fairy tales and renewed legends. Line by eloquent line, her poems give voice to our stifling silences.