The dazzling grace of A Strange Relief marks the debut of a singular young poet, Sonnet L’Abbé. In her delicately architected, but toughly envisioned poems, L’Abbé surveys the world and finds it both beautiful and unjust. She portrays that complex world with luxurious rhythms and a vocabulary that invites us to marvel at language’s infinite possibilities. Whether she is writing about living in Korea in “Cheju Diary,” or about the Aral Sea in “Nomads,” she shows a keen sensitivity that can at once bear witness to the experience of the cultural outsider while vividly imagining the internal struggles of people whose stories are rarely heard within our borders. But these poems, which span the earth, are also literally about shaping that earth. A Strange Relief is very much about making: making who we are, how we live, and also about making poetry itself. L’Abbé’s lyric sequences play on the ear with formal measures and headstrong lines that reinforce her thrillingly varied, but interconnected themes of politics, geography, and love.
Born to a seventh-generation Franco-Ontarian potter and a Guyanese visual artist, Sonnet L’Abbé (“Sonnet” is a combination of her parents’ names that has been hers since birth) was raised in Alberta, Manitoba, and Southwestern Ontario. She studied Film and Video at York University, and later took her Masters in English Literature at the University of Guelph., L’Abbé won The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize in 1999, and the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35, in 2000. She lives in Toronto.
“It is unusual for such exceptional talent to be presented in a first collection of poetry, assured and fired with such scope and intensity and humorous moulding of the clay as went into such treasures as the Grecian urn.”