Trobairitz, Catherine Owen,155 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $18
Vancouver poet Catherine Owen is the author of nine books, and her previous poetry collection, Frenzy (also published with Anvil), won the Alberta Literary Award in 2009. The title of her latest collection, Trobairitz, refers to female troubadours, and the place where 12th century troubadours intersect with 21st century metalheads. Owen herself plays bass in metal bands Inhuman and Helgrind, and her current project is Medea.
Metal often takes inspiration from medieval imagery, and Owen takes us to the early roots. The bulk of these poems focus on the Comtessa de Dia (a medieval French trobairitz) and her platonic lover, Senhal Fohlia. Largely told from the Comtessa’s perspective, these are lyric, sensual poems, heavy with unfulfilled longing and a love not quite requited.
In “Devinalh on the Domna,” a poem testing the lines of tension between expectation and what is, Owen writes “Who is song personified / & yet silence embodied?” Here’s another sentiment echoed in her metal poems: “…She may have even sung, but in a shirt so / thin and a skirt so short her body was the only heard note,” from “Gileos.”
Indeed, the strongest poems are those that confront gender and class expectations, both in those told from the Comtessa’s perspective, and from Owen’s, revealing how little has changed in the development of the trobairitz.
The metal poems, from the glossary- like “Metal Lexicon: A Table of Elements” to the episodic “Metal Party,” are fierce and raw, while poems like “The End of Metal (2009)” parody the devolution of a band. Overall, Owen has given a voice to women whose songs are rarely heard. (Nico Mara-McKay)