The Description of the World

Buckrider Books, 2016

Reviewed by Karen Quevillon

Skibsrud’s poetry is most compelling when the language is concrete rather than abstract. For example, the startling poem “They Will Take My Island” is a narration of the dismantling of the self, a process that begins with the narrator’s ocean surroundings and ultimately comes to incorporate her body and innards. The “I” who is speaking is both dissolved and remains.

Then, I, too, will be slowly dismantled.

My skull — through which once, as above the stuccoed walls, the brass band played — emptied, my heart picked clean from its root,

and the four corners of my body at last so remote from one another

that they, too, will dream that they are trees,

emptiness no more an emptiness between them.

Further, where the poet is able to make use of metaphor rather than rely on abstract statements, the reader gains access to these grand philosophical problems and themes more obliquely, and I think, more effectively. As in the poem “Study of the End of the World,” which records the apocalyptic event in detail, and the (in)significance of offering an artistic appreciation of it. The impact of this doubled documentation surpasses anything that could have been written more straightforwardly about our human fear/desire for extinction.

The bucket tripped a wire connected to a tin can and a refrigerator motor.

Then everything — just as the artist had hoped — began to explode before his eyes.

Some people clapped and took photographs.

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Karen Quevillon is an award-winning author of short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. Since 2009, her work has appeared in literary journals across North America and she has won awards through The Malahat Review, The Writers’ Union of Canada, Writer’s Digest, and GritLit. She teaches writing and literature courses at Ontario colleges and works as a program manager. Educated as a philosopher (PhD, Northwestern University), Karen is a mother of two and a dedicated naturalist and traveller.