With its razzle-dazzle wordplay and kaleidoscope of subjects, Sonnet L’Abbé’s second collection of poems is a tour-de-force. L’Abbé invents her own unique poetics, coupling a glittering variety of patterns with tumbling rhythms and rhymes. And with this refreshed language, she reconsiders all the rules for twenty-first-century life. The poems work like a whirlwind, ranging from the intimacy of infancy to the shock of whole civilizations razed by war, and are infused with a political undertone that reveals a child’s emerging understanding of identity, of specific citizenship, of bodies physical and psychological, of language, imagination, and dream. Whether funny or funky, candid or subtle, amused and ironic or stunned in fright, the poems are guided by a fierce intelligence that never oversimplifies the world. Killarnoe, the poet tells us, “is a place I invented right now. I just built it from my head.” And in its reconsideration of what it means to be, Killarnoe is fascinating, charged, and inspired.
About the author
Sonnet L’Abbé is a Toronto-born writer of French-Canadian and Guyanese descent. She is the author of two collections of poetry, A Strange Relief and, most recently, Killarnoe. Her work has been internationally published and anthologized. In 2000, she won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35. L’Abbé teaches writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and reviews poetry for the Globe and Mail.
Excerpt: Killarnoe: Poems (by (author) Sonnet L'Abbe)
this o is my throat
this o is my oh yeah
this o is my really
this o is my credulousness
this o is my soundful closed
this o is my politeness
this o is my mask
this o is my feigned interest
this o is my I see
this o is the shared place
this o is my sympathy
this o is my mistake
this o is my aha
this o is my incredulousness
this o is my startling backward
this o is our otherness
this o is just o
this o is symbolic sound
this o is the presence of nothing
this o is common ground
this o is my lips
this o is my gentle kiss
this o is my suckling
o my greedy tenderness
A Word about the Poem by Sonnet L’Abbe
One of the interests I explore in Killarnoe is the unspoken relationship of phonemes (basic units of sound in language, like “ah,” or “sh,” or “uh”) to meaning. There’s an intuitive connection between the feeling elicited in the body when pronouncing a word and its signification. For example, the pristine sound of “ee” suggests a clean, free motion or a scream, while the hollow sound of “oh” suggests something lower, something whole and orblike.
I’m also interested in how these sounds get coded culturally, in what “sounds foreign” to Canadian ears. Where bazaars are common, names with “z” aren’t bizarre, but what does it mean to be named Aziz or Zalena here?
How the Poem Works by Margaret Christakos
Living in parentheses is resisted through utterance, on the wing’s highest heart and at language’s most inner pitches, so that the reverberations of that tiniest of bon mots signifies the radiance of the self. L’Abbe’s incantatory repetition and melodic optimism complete a notative poetics of private thought, of public comeback, and of identity inscription. Greedy, and tender, like the mouth itself.
“It is unusual for such exceptional talent to be presented in a first collection of poetry, assured and fired with such scope and intensity.…”
—Austin Clarke (on A Strange Relief )