Line and Detail: Heidi Greco

From my “Double the Pleasure: Heidi Greco’s Practical Anxiety” (Inanna Publications, 2018), The League of Canadian Poets Review.

... the craft of her writing was a joy. It was pure pleasure to see enjambment used sparingly for significant emphasis; stanza divisions that mirrored thought development; descriptions focused to pinpoint exactly “how” something looked or felt; and details well chosen to welcome the reader into the speaker’s personal experience. In short, Greco’s poetry was precise, concise, solid, yet sparkling. She could write about penguins on Mars, and I would enjoy her lines simply for their art….

…. what [also] makes these poems so compelling is Greco’s mastery of language. Her lines are tight, every word counts. Note the vigour of her verbs in “Relentless” and the attention to detail.

         The day the tide rose, it swallowed the beach slowly‌
         ‌then crept along the bricks of the city promenade‌
‌          fingered its way across the road, insinuating salty paths‌
         ‌between flower beds, lawn trolls, banks of tended roses.

Her imagery illuminates. Consider these examples from “River of salmon, river of dreams”: “she laid her cache of eggs in the secrecy of gravel”; “bony hands of wild salal”; “remembering / promises made. They flick their tails, / swish off, dive deep, energy renewed”; and “sides as bright as if aflame, blood-ruddy”. As well as pictures, she evokes sounds: “a name / with zing of salty tang: sailfish, saltman, salmon” and “the salmon run assembles // a horde of silvery murmurings”. Elsewhere, my favourite example for its sound effect is “the light-slicked surface of rain-rinsed streets”. The repeating “s” sound makes the splashing audible.

Nor has Greco ignored the sense of touch. Describing an autumn leaf in “On the wane”, she offers lines tactile enough with harsh “c” and “r” sounds to make fingers curl:

         it basks in scarred light‌
‌          cast by the cratered moon‌
‌          each crevice reflected in ridges
‌          of its own veined skin.

“Morning Commute, Vancouver” even gives personification a twist. Greco describes both humans and fish in terms of each other, as a salmon

         …swims along the freeway‌
‌          beside the rest of us of the working-class fish, climbing‌
‌          corporate ladders, half past six.

On a larger scale, Greco’s layout on the page, be it the extension of a line, or the shape of a whole stanza, visually reflects, and so supports, both rhythm and the advancement of thought. Even the structuring of the entire book, from anxiety to calm, and from childhood through adulthood, then death, to “my next life” is satisfying in its parallelism.

But I do take issue with Greco on one point. Her concluding lines in “The poem I am not going to write” insist “the books deserve better / poems than I can write today.” I respect her humility, but dispute the words’ veracity, for what she has published as Practical Anxiety is already of the best order and an inspiring demonstration for all who would improve their own art.