Sea Level, by Cornelia HooglandBaseline Press, London, Ontario
Sea Level was originally a CBC Lit Award Shortlisted work of nonfiction. Former London, Ontario now Hornby Island, B.C. poet and playwright Cornelia Hoogland has seamlessly transformed the manuscript into a long poem, dropping its reader into the thick of Bella Bella, British Columbia, accompanied by tour guide Howard Humchitt of the Heiltsuk First Nation and his expertise.
Comparable to previous volumes of her poetry, Hoogland spotlights a single animal, the gray wolf in this instance, but also broadens the experience with salmon, whales, and squid, and both the reader’s zoological knowledge and a greater appreciation for poetic skill inevitably increase in the process.
One of Sea Level’s best moments involves interaction with lichen and trees:
“The witches beard (Usnea lichen)
draped over spruce branches
acts like a dimmer switch. It’s so quiet
we think we hear the sound
Douglas-firs standing together
Hoogland has long-mastered the art of concise, descriptive narrative. There is the Zen-like manner of conveying the natural setting without bogging it down with perceptions and then the ease she uses to move the story along with her panoramic vignettes told ever succinctly. When you read each untitled episode of this flowing long poem, the author, through the use of familiar, personal language, ensures that the reader will feel she or he is a part of its drama and is one of the visitors accompanying Howard Humchitt along his revelation of this coastal British Columbia landscape (though Hoogland cleverly remarks that “This is not landscape, it is not outside us. / We are in it.”).
Hoogland, as usual, doesn’t overdo images in order to impress but uses them when needed to make a passage extremely memorable:
“We look for animal tracks in the mud.
Our rubber boot prints are everywhere.
Somebody puts his foot on the body of a dead fish.
He presses down. Flame-red roe gushes
onto black rock. Spill of jewels.”
Published by London, Ontario’s Baseline Press and lovingly put together by its publisher/editor, Karen Schindler, Sea Level, as a hand-sewn chapbook complete with a cover illustration by Howard Humchitt and a Thai Mango flyleaf, is yet another stunning edition to this ever-growing press’ line of incredibly beautiful volumes of verse. You’ll love the feel of it in your hands and the poems within for a good long while.
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– Andreas Gripp