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The Gorge: A Cartography of Sorrows

Chapbook, Wendy Donawa, Leah Fowler & Terry Ann Carter, 64 pgs, JackPine Press,

This chapbook aims to capture not only the history of a significant West Coast water-way, flowing inland from Victoria and through a multitude of culturally-charged districts, but simultaneously to grapple with its contemporary effect on the lives of one poet, one photographer, and one book designer. Though the work is attributed mainly to Wendy Donawa, the author of the eight-poem sequence contained therein, this review cannot help but setting the work equally on the shoulders of Leah Fowler, whose photography situates each poem immediately in the geographic, historical present of “The Gorge Waterway,” and the book design of Terry Ann Carter, which — what with the book being composed of archived maps of the area — allows the chapbook’s content to speak to its reader materially and poetically.

In terms of poetry, Donawa’s most memorable images come from impressions of the present drudging up events from the past, as is seen in the poem “Cracker Boxes for the Children’s” image of the Gorge’s funerary “island of the dead,” where “carved memorial figures / held burial boxes, loved ones curled, fetal, / and at twilight the bereaved paddled out / with sap torches, food for the dead, / chanted long into the night.” It’s a shame that the chapbook’s sub-title wasn’t pilfered from here, rather than the somewhat weaker final line to the same poem: “Low tide and the islet ringed with tidemarks. / A cartography of sorrows.”

The Gorge is nevertheless an engaging look at a historical landmark, told from three different media in conjunction. This review would be remiss not to applaud Terry Ann Carter’s gorgeous Japanese stab binding, which must have taken a great deal of handy-work, and brings the reading experience to new heights. Bravo! (Joel W. Vaughan)

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