Close Reading a poem by Sarah Burgoyne

Sarah Burgoyne

Sarah Burgoyne’s new chapbook Love the Sacred Raisin Cakes, published by baseline press in 2014, is gorgeous inside and out. A book object to hold in the hand and admire, the content is simultaneously gentle and unforgiving, a paper cut to the reader’s sensibility. Destroying healthy plants, “aphids […] invent lace” in the process. Pearls are compared with onions that bring you to tears. That which is sacred, is also sweet, silly and sacrilegious as raisin cakes. Here I will consider one poem, reprinted with permission.

By Klara du Plessis

the word revealed out of darkness was    pear

someone has been writing
on your perfect menu

and your spirit has left you
for a stranger passing by your home

in the basement
you brew tea
and a list of rebuttals

a shadow hums in your window
as dusk la-tee-das
behind the mountain

the fruit was bold
to appear that way
you think

and no one prepared
for the smaller wars

Two main elements of the poem are accentuated in the title by a clear break between them on the page – “the word revealed out of darkness” and “pear.” Whereas the first half of the title evokes Judeo-Christian creation mythology – and by extension creativity – the second half posits itself as the product of this creation. The first line of the poem distinctly projects the word pear as the object of the creative process: “pear / someone has been writing.”

The challenge Burgoyne’s poem poses is whether being the object of creativity is a passive or an active position.

On the one hand, when I read the word pear, I immediately think of fine arts; I think of a pear stylized in a still life painting; I think of the naked, pear-shaped curves of a woman reclining. There is a certain stasis associated with pear, an aspect also present throughout the poem. It is quiet: “a shadow hums in your window / as dusk la-tee-das / behind the mountain.” If the pear is understood as the object within visual tradition, then the word pear is likewise the static focal point of this poem.

Yet on the other hand, there is a rebellious quality to the poem. Writing takes place as vandalism “on your perfect menu,” writing is a provocation, “a list of rebuttals.” Indeed, the reader is told that “revealed out of darkness,” “the fruit was bold / to appear that way.” The pear expands beyond its dictionary definition and becomes the mythical fruit bitten into to remove innocence and expose nudity. Within the biblical narrative of the poem’s title, the fruit is a symbol for revolt. The fruit is itself an action, “the smaller wars” of the poem’s finale.

Being “revealed,” something is done to the fruit. But “to appear” implies consent and volition. Potentially it is impossible for an entity to be shown or to show itself in any true way without being the agent of that revelation.

Sarah Burgoyne is from BC but is living and writing in Montreal. Her latest chapbook, Love the Sacred Raisin Cakes, was published with Baseline Press in November 2014. She has a forthcoming manuscript with Mansfield Press.