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Poetry Week: Rachael Simpson’s playful words

By Sanita Fejzić on March 26, 2015


Ottawa-based Apt. 9 Press published this past fall Five, a poetry collection by five different poets. With the start of VERSeFest this week, we thought this would be a great opportunity to profile each of the writers featured in Five.  Today we look at the work of Rachael Simpson, whose poetry has appeared in print and online throughout Canada and the United States.  She lives in Ottawa and blogs at also part 1part 2part 3 and part 5 of this series of five profiles).

Rachael Simpson’s use of repetition with variation is wonderful, especially in “Corrode.” Simply put: Simpson’s poetry is unexpected and playful, and fun to read. Like many of the other poets in Five, she too has a poem dedicated to home, with the image of the house as centre of meaning. Titled, “Wild, Domestic,” the line breaks and enjambments emphasise displacement and loss:

            If I show you the house where I grew up we must first drive
            away from it
            so far that the house becomes a general direction
Rachael Simpson

Rachael Simpson

The atmosphere created by Simpson is dark, suggesting danger: “I’ll point to a place that you can’t see. / A barn I played in until it lost integrity. / A quarry where I swam until a friend / didn’t get out of water.” The sombre mood is further reinforced with the introduction of a predator, the coyote. Yet “her wild, domestic sound we’re strangely / attached to.” This savage creature is home.

            I’ll ask you a question and you will answer the question
            I have not asked
            This is how I know
            I can bring you home.


The house that becomes a general direction, and then a place “where people dump their garbage” turns to a barn, a quarry, and finally becomes home. Interesting, how the changes in language mirror the poem’s mood reversal. Personally, these are the kind of transitions that move me most in poetry.

I’ll end with Simpson’s “Tramp Art,” which is one of my favourite poems in the entire book.  The way it looks on the page reminds me of an exclamation point!

The rows of short lines also suggest sardines, echoing the contents of the poem:

            Even now, the old can
            still smells of sardine
            no matter how fine
            his knife scrapes

The image of sardines lining the memory is strangely beautiful; it works, especially in the context of the “he” who has lost his dog and “not for the last time / whistles low, makes sounds / ones makes / when one thinks / one is alone.” This is a poem you will want to enter more than once to savour each new read with more satisfaction.