Review of He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car by Arleen Paré

Pare’s fourth book is a lyric examination of losing love and staying present in two parts and many poems, some rooted in the rocky soil of the West Coast, and others stretching across the country to home places of the past. These poems document a life’s worth of the waxing and waning of family attachments, their sharpened ambivalences and their sometimes painful loosening. Throughout the book, the poet weaves the narrative of loss around the quotidian pleasures of nature, a blossoming demand for awareness that sometimes abandons us in the face of grief.

The winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for Lake of Two Mountains, Paré brings her eye for nature’s tart rigours as an affective parallel to experience, and she is not afraid of approaching the metaphysical for her poetic narrative, as in “Pear Tree in Winter”: “Time/ is how you stand outside yourself/ waiting to get in.” Seeing Paré parse the slender differences between knowing and wanting to know is one of this collection’s great pleasures. For example, in the beauteous “In Nomine Dust,” the poet notes our dual ephemeralities of body and self as they are intimately tied to the struggle of “thinking ourselves whole/ but knowing/ ourselves particulate.” The title poem and its affiliates in the first half of the book constitute a deep dive into the rituals and frustrations of parental loss, with all the guilt and love a family can bear.

The second half of the book moves to consider other losses, with the heartbreaking “Ode to Hazel White” and “For the Record” speaking eloquently of brave people in hard circumstances who did their best against violence and ignorance. Paré brings to this poetry collection a compassionate understanding that “not every script reads from left to right” (“Sequence for a Younger Son”) and an admirable recognition of the tender in a tough world. 

Tanis MacDonald is the author of three books of poetry, including Rue the Day (Turnstone Press). Recent poems have appeared in The Goose, Alyss, Prairie Fire, Contemporary Verse 2, The Puritan, Iron Horse Review and Best Canadian Poetry 2014. She is Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, where she teaches Canadian literature and creative writing.