School, Jen Currin, 99 pgs, Coach House Books, www.chbooks.com, $17.95
We take for granted that we are defined by the way we interact with the world around us; our friends, our jobs, our alignments with certain movements and ideologies. Vancouver poet Jen Currin explores themes of identity in her fourth book School, investigating what is left of a person when the relationships and objects she’s built her identity upon are taken out of the picture.
School is a collection of memories and observations. Details of personal relationships recur, but Currin refuses a cohesive linear or narrative interpretation, . As a result, these vignettes obscure lines and act as anecdotes that do not quite cohere. Currin’s writing is beautiful in its subtlety, with lines that unfold quietly into each other like: “We used to go there before the fire. / It’s hard to know how to story things, / what anything means or meant” from “The Incense in Those Rooms,” which initially suggests the ruins of a fire, but ultimately indicates a campfire. A tension between narrative or construction and ruin or revelation prevails throughout School, and through it Currin delicately posits a human essence that predates notions of constructed identity and survives every personal catastrophe. Her argument remains a gesture to something inexplicable except by referral, and becomes more poignant with each reiteration.
While the work in School is sometimes frustrating in its obscurity, the collection offers many quiet and satisfying treasures. (Maureen Brouwer)