"Later we will laugh; shake moonlight
off our clothes like ash.
For now we stare at the clock. The
day wears, tired as mechanism."
Undark: An Oratorio is the highly anticipated second collection from Sandy Pool, whose debut book of poetry Exploding into Night (Guernica, 2009) was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for poetry in 2010.
In the early 1900s, thousands of women between the ages of 11 and 45 were employed painting glow-in-the-dark watch faces in factories across North America. Several years after leaving the plant, the dial painters developed mysterious medical conditions. These included complete necrosis of the jaw, severe anemia, intense arthritic like pains, and spontaneous bone fractures. Though clearly ailing from the use of radium based paint, the women were intentionally misdiagnosed as having syphilis. Many women died in shame before ever receiving compensation.
Sandy Pool's second book, Undark: An Oratorio, is equal parts dramatic elegy and poetic inquisition written in seven distinct voices. Drawing from the historical record of the 'radium women' and other instances of historical erasure, the work urges us to engage deeply with questions of time and women's history. The book confronts Bakhtin's notorious questions: What happens to time when history is being erased? What happens when time takes on flesh?
Pool's book offers more than a gorgeous sensory experience, or even a poetic monument to the silent lives of the Radium Girls. It's also a harrowing meditation on the darkness that can result when humanity attempts to lean away from the blackness of night and manufacture its own light.
--Julie Sedivy, Alberta Views Magazine
Despite the darkness of her subject, or perhaps becuase of it, Pool's language bursts forth brightly, indelible, refusing night.
--Jonathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press
What I love most about Undark is that the poetry doubles as a performance score. The tradition of Poets' Theatre, which began in the 1950s (in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge), is experiencing something of a revival these days. As such, Undark: An Oratorio is timely and thrilling--with so much potential for adaptation to the stage. In her biographical note, Pool describes herself as a "multi-disciplinary artist." Let's hope she's true to her word, and that the book publication of Undark is only the beginning for these Radium Women--after all, to quote Pool, "nothing ends."
--Alessandro Porco, Open Book Toronto
This book should be received as its subtitle suggests--as a performance work. Staged, with the appropriate John Adams-style music, it could be magnificent.
--George Elliott Clarke, The Chronicle Herald
Sandy Pool's Undark: An Oratorio is a smart, carefully wrought, brilliant book, and a significant contribution to contemporary poetry. A remarkably engaging volume, Undark is a pleasure to read, and a pleasure to delve into critically--this is a book that warrants and rewards serious scholarly attention.
--Helen Hajnoczky, ateacozyisasometimes.blogspot.ca