Dani Coutures first poetry collection Good Meat, explores a world of inescapable shared physicality: unable to tell / what difference between animal and woman, steel cuts both / with the same blind instinct.
Coutures observational free verse poems are precise, taut with meaning, and quietly filled with curiosities of fact and phrase that may prompt scurrying to reference materials (Really? The whale exploded? In downtown traffic?). Her symbols reveal owners via their objects, and consider both owners and objects through the thematic proscenium of meat. Vignettes of hunting, travel, family, intimacy, and appetite suggest the skills needed to survive them: if only someone had cared enough / to teach me how to filet whats offered / to the size of my hunger.
In Good Meat, flesh is the site of self, a source of nourishment, and a host to disease. It comforts and challenges, grows and decays. Like Wallin, Couture speculates on what people are willing to do or have done to them in order to feel nourished, as in the chicken carver:
it is art that feeds me
night after night
fresh from her blood-
again and again
out my heart
serves it to me
for twice the asking price.
It is easy to borrow Coutures own words to describe hers: honed, pared, exactly cut. Her sensory, often simple, language is kept tidy with meticulous line breaks and punctuation. Its rich with suggestion and sound play, as in terminals airport scene:
hearts held up by security;
at horseless carousels
hung up on which black suitcase
looks the most familiar.
The imagery is almost invariably tactile, drawn from the religion of small things, as in the raccoons tiny black garbage bag hearts, or the reflection that grocery carts / would not make good long boats: / too many holes. Couture capably compresses characterisation into physical symbols, as in the conclusion of shrimping: a postcard:
. . . he chats with locals. he, in search of anything. western hunger waning into a simple desire-- the capture of a creature only capable of swimming backwards, away.
One of Coutures most intruiging accomplishments is how subtly her tone perpetuates the dualities inherent in her theme. The deceptive quiet of these poems is constructed with precise language, grounding in the quotidian, and understated humour. It builds readerly trust. Even the words look steady and calm, presented entirely in lower case. Suddenly we discover that Couture has led us quietly into territory that simultaneously invokes the mystic and the absurd, as in her ode to e. coli or fish and chips twin voices. Or into the absurd and the heartbreaking, as in the melon-choly conclusion to anniversary recipe which instructs, charmingly, how to make a honeydew hat.
Indeed, Couture presents frankly gruesome subjects, like a childs dive into shallow water, with convincing ease and without gore. By the time weve truly grasped the childs situation, the conventional implications have already been disabled. Instead, we become persuaded that children, sweet rag dolls of flesh and mistake, / [were] not intended to remain cradled / in the uniforms they were / born into. Rather, they must swim into deeper water / disappear into silt.
In that situation, tender language and the child-fish conflation keep the reader safe. In sweet meat, on the other hand, Couture uses humour to entice the reader into a differently sickening scene:
sugar-coated pork chops
could never look as sweet
as you in a state
of late monday undress
the eyes of a butcher
seeing dollar signs
at every blooming curve.
Couture experiments with closed form in her ghazal, the ends. The ghazal, still becoming naturalised (some, please note, would say bastardised) into English from Indo-Islamic tradition, is a series of couplets that may be read separately or together. Its conventionally preoccupied with unrequited or mystic love. The ends is a chilly account of departure, the terminus of a relationship whose nature the reader can only interpolate from couplets like:
even the ends of sentences cut short. stumble over
implication into the next. i give you winter.
It may or may not have been a love affair. The form suggests it, but we only know the certainty of the departure and the narrators single statement of longing, in the image of the street with its last breath. a stop. / a lone sign to make you yield. if only.
Coutures adventurous debut is a rewarding read which re-presents our daily relationships to bodies and appetites. Carnivores and vegetarians alike can sink their teeth into Good Meat. Jane Henderson
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada