I was recently afforded the opportunity to read and review a book of poetry, by Jenne Kaivo, entitled Poems Mostly of the Sea. And it was a bit of a wild ride, to say the least, but I suspect that was the point. Either way, Kaivo created something rather brilliant.
This book is made up of 62 poems, all relating in some way or another to the sea. With this in mind, I began reading the poems with some caution. While I adore the sea and anything relating to it—after all, I was born by the ocean—I worried it wouldn’t have much to do with what we normally face over here at Voices in the Attic. We tend to lean more towards the dark and macabre, and while we’ve taken many a detour into feminist anthems and cries for the environment, I wondered where this would fit in. The sea has always been about renewal and a calming presence for me. Of course I’m aware of all the mythical beasts that supposedly live down there, and all the real-world problems like storms, and shipwrecks, and the like. But I wondered where this book would fit in.
And oh, were my worries ever proven wrong.
Kaivo’s book is full of an array of individual poems that all link together to form a grander theme. Initially, it seems like a general ode to the sea, which, as someone who has always appreciated a nice sea breeze across the back of my neck, I can easily get behind. But with each poem I passed, the figurative storms picked up, and her words raced into darker territories.
The book begins with such poems as “By the Sea it’s Safe and Quiet”, “Whitewaterfall”, and “The Lake”, and in them I can easily see a clear message: the world itself is messy, but there is always a sense of clarity and renewal in the sea. This I feel very deeply. And as I read these poems, I thought I understood that to be the message of the whole book.
Yet as I read further, I discovered poems such as “Lunatic Mood” and “My City Angst”, which denoted a kind of chaos that most people in this world feel at some point or another, and many just can’t get away from. “My City Angst” was a particular favourite of mine, because it was, at its core, about such a simple task. The narrator was roaming the aisles of a drug store late at night. But Kaivo uses language so fluidly and expertly, and instantly such a simple scene is twisted into something more. The streets are dark, and the buildings are dimly lit, and in the distance, wolves are howling. I can almost feel the wind whipping through my clothes, and it’s as though I’ve been sucked into a horror scene.
In “Let Cake Eat Them”, we get something a touch more fantastical. The narrator is in a bakery when suddenly a cake comes to life and attempts to gobble up the bakery patrons. The horror in this poem was particularly clear, and in “Excalibur” it was just as clear, but in a less fantastical, more real-world sense. Glass bottles are being thrown, and a meth-head is curled up alone in an alleyway.
It seems, at first, that all these examples I’ve provided have nothing to do with each other. They seem disconnected, and many of them don’t even have anything to do with the sea (though, with this, I urge you to consider the title of the book: Poems Mostly of the Sea.)
But I think I’ve figured out the connection between it all. We live in a time of extreme climate crisis. Everyone knows it, though an unfortunate amount of people still insist on denying it. It is in a time such as the one we live in, that a book such as Kaivo’s becomes particularly relevant. Her poems denote a state of disaster that the world currently lives in, and yet, they urge us towards rebirth and renewal. Everything feels fresher by the sea because it’s such a pure, raw sense of nature, untouched by man. It’s just our duty to keep it that way.
Towards the end of her book, Kaivo cycles through such poems as “You Must Know How We Grow on the Dead”, which describes how most plants grow out of the death of those that came before them, and “There is a Traffic Jam on Everest”, which more or less speaks for itself. There are many horrors in nature, but there’s also beauty in it when you stop and appreciate it for what it is. That is the main goal of Kaivo’s poetry: to appreciate the forces of nature for what they are, using the sea is her main example.
Fittingly, Kaivo’s collection of poetry concludes with a poem entitled “Daylight”. It speaks of waking up to a new day and is, essentially, the rebirth and renewal the rest of the collection worked its way towards. It denotes a new dawn, a new beginning, and precisely what awaits at the end of every horror.
Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.