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Leaving Traces

Written by Mary Hanna for Sunday Observer on no date provided

Quiet, witty, and wise, these nearly fifty new poems by linguist and educator Velma Pollard satisfy the senses and the mind. They are short and pithy, spoken in the simplest of language, yet extolling great feelings, especially when recording the poet’s impressions of 9/11. Velma Pollard speaks, in the words of top scholar Evelyn O’Callaghan, in a manner that underscores that reading her is 'to encounter an acutely sensitive consciousness grappling, even in apparently lighter moments, with the complexity of experience'. Pollard speaks from the body, deep within the gut. Her work shimmers on the page and in the mind.

Somewhere between my soul’s brief waking and its death
we loved
blending the moon’s eye with our wonder
somewhere between my borrowed youth and its thereafter
we touched
and marveled

And fortunate are we, Pollard’s readers, to be able to share moments of calm and loving surrender with such a skillful poet.

In this new collection, Pollard has united the personal and the political into a seamless whole. She writes of the terror in New York as follows:

Who’s bombing?
Where’s burning
London? Berlin?
Iraq, Iran or madmen in Grenada?

Thus pulling together places and times of holocaust in one sphere of terror:

throw the dice now and see
whose luck is out
whose luck is in
terror is terror anywhere
Iran, New York
‘While TV Towers Burn I and II)

Pollard speaks against the madness of violence and outrageous hurt by blending the horrors of our history and calling for commonsense to prevail. She does so with a sarcastic and humorous edge:

and so
we going to
bomb them
smoke them
root them out

For collateral damage:
old peoples homes
crèches and hospitals
we deeply apologize.
(‘While TV Towers Burn III’)

This sequence of poems is from the second section of the three section collection. The entire collection explores underlying political concerns, such as the impact of global culture, the dangers of unobstructed American power, and the threat of Islamist opposition. But ultimately what Pollard is seeking is resolution through understanding the flow of nature and a celebration of life. She moves with care and fluidity from discussion of far flung travels in Section One (‘Leaving Traces’) to the ferocity of bombings and rapes in Section Two (‘Double Vision’) to the soothing unification of opposing frailties in Section Three (‘While the Sap Flows’). Pollard celebrates the coming of maturity and the deep wisdom of age with poems that sing of love and connection:

how brief mid-
ife how soon
is evening
golden age
(or rage?)

and feebleness sets in
the bones complain
too much
the mind complains
too many queries

There is observation and protest, but finally an acceptance of aging and the communion of aging saints. Meanwhile there are warnings for those who do not see the future as clearly as they ought. In ‘Single Mother’, Pollard warns the overburdened woman that worse is to come if she cannot resist the ‘tale so sweet/that you would lie/and calmly let him in’. Soon, there will be ten children to feed, not just four.

Pollard’s commitment to social issues is underscored in this collection as is her need for solace at times. In ‘Soursop/ Tree I remember’, she speaks with gratitude of the soothing gift of herbal teas ‘home-brewed/ with honey’. They ‘hush tired thoughts/ sooth tired limbs/to sleep’. Honouring poet Olive Senior, Pollard writes of the challenge of gardening in Toronto, and speaks lovingly of clouds and other natural phenomena, like birdsong. This collection marries the political and the personal, giving the reader time to catch breath between critiques of social issues and the beauty of the natural world. ‘While the Sap Flows’ underscores the healing attributes of nature:

and this one leafless trunk
a young amputee
basket case
lately returned
(from which wind-war?)
from out naked nodes
its brilliant yellow blooms

the sap still flows
blooms hug the trunk
that shouts out
I too can!

Accepting aging is only part of the poet’s wisdom. Pollard writes with delicacy and breathless beauty about death (‘It is the Dying Time’). Speaking of a small bird, she writes ‘wounded near night/she falls her gentle head/ against a stone’. Accepting these natural movements in life’s challenges, the poet is able to speak of them with a calmness that inspires and sets at ease. Beauty is not overcome permanently by the violence of human will, as shown in the series on rape. Here is ‘Rape V’:

'her tortured hair undone
mixes with arms and legs
urgent in threatened flight
all body trying still
in vain
to expel the harsh and forceful
muscled skin'

Such delicacy is to be admired. 

Velma Pollard has taught at the University of the West Indies, Mona. She retired as Senior Lecturer in Language Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education. She has always written, stories and well as poems and non-fiction. She has published two previous books of poetry and Considering Woman (1989), a book of prose pieces. She is the author of Dread Talk the Language of the Rastafari (1994), and she has edited several anthologies of writing for schools.

This is a review of Leaving Traces

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