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Arts in Review

Book review: 1996 by Sara Peters

“In my dreams I am a moral child,” Sara Peters writes in “Playing Lesbians,” the second in this book of thirty poems.

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 26, 2014

1996

“In my dreams I am a moral child,” Sara Peters writes in “Playing Lesbians,” the second in this book of thirty poems.

It is poetry written in the ink of fascination, the kind that makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes the sound of a bone snapping or a firecracker going off — you’re not sure which — in broad daylight while the sun glints on some neighbourhood kid’s pink bicycle. It makes you want to deny everything.

Yet each word gleams irrefutably with truth.

1996 may be Peters’ first collection of poetry, but it proves she is anything but an amateur. It is as if she has picked up the rug of life and shaken it, to reveal more than dust gathered underneath.

If you like a book that makes you feel comfortable, go home and read Anne of Green Gables. (No offence, Lucy Maud — Anne is a charming Canadian story and I love her to pieces, but she’s about as unsettling as a Hallmark card.) If you’re looking for something more complex, something with a little more bite to it, pick up 1996.

Actually, Anne can be unsettling — at least, in this book. “You love this orphan, / you dickhead, but she’s carrying a butterfly knife, although / you agreed last week to keep the gables green,” she writes in “Your Life as Lucy Maud Montgomery.”

“Cruelty” is equally discomfiting: “When I was eleven, I watched my cousin cut open a gopher / with the serrated top of a tin can.” The poem finishes with the gopher’s tormentor crooning not to worry — her dad’s a vet.

1996 is split into six sections containing poems which range from the firmly real-world “Abortion” to the mystical borders of a day at the beach in “Cryptid” to the eerie but undeniably human tale of “Mary Ellen Spook.”

Each poem exposes some strange undercurrent of our human rituals, and to read them is to peel back a kind of fugue, to remember those dark things that, as children, we push to the back of our minds because they don’t coalesce with what we’ve been told of the world. Peters takes you a little deeper, a little darker, than you may want to go.

“Secrets thud / like June bugs against screens, / and all you have to do is let them in,” she writes in “Babysitters.”

My personal favourite in this collection is the last poem, “The Last Time I Slept in This Bed.” In addition to its own shadowy layers of interpretation, this one also makes me think, in a way, of how I feel reading the whole collection: “I was involved in the serious business / of ripping apart my own body.”

1996 is more than a little dark, and more than a little disturbing. Peters leads you to the cliffs of normal, then pushes you over.

What are good artists for?

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