Susanna Braund reviews Splendid in its Silence

From Brick Books Online
August 11, 2016 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry
Jude Neale presented by Susanna Braund

Jude Neale’s latest poetry collection, Splendid in its Silence, delivers yet again what we expect from her: searing insights into relationships and experiences, articulated with full-on synesthesia, as Jude appeals to multiple senses with carefully crafted phrases, such as “aubergine veins”, “steel affability” and, from the brilliant “Wild Berry”:

She liked to pick in the shiver of morning
where the black rooted cliffs

shifted from shadow to blue

This collection has a particularly strong focus on mother-daughter relationships, with a smattering of sibling material too. Several of the poems speak of the ties, ribbons and nooses of relationships, others of hearts, some of both (“Newly Born”):

Rope we have gathered between us
strong like our bond

and light as the delicate beating

of your hummingbird heart.

The poem “Runs like a Kite String” deals with sheer genius with the truth and lies and honesty and guilt of relationships. Another depicts the relentlessly infantilizing effect of seeing “my husk of a mother”, who is visiting from the dementia care home (“Is This Your Final Answer?”):

I tuck my guilt around her

with a sleeping pill, hoping
this will tip her away
from our severed bond.

And sex, there is always sex, from the shocking “Love Brag Poem” to the memories of fierce happy sex on a Mexican blanket in a field in “If”. As always, in Jude’s poems, there are so many things that we instantly recognise, but could never have articulated so powerfully. How people might be:

eager for a bitter taste
to inform them
of the hard rub of someone else’s
slim bag of misery

Of the moon:

She is the ice cream
melting in a cobalt dish.

And the haunting truth of:

I’m shipwrecked by your words,

drowned
by their burden.

My favourite in the collection is probably “Pink”, which delivers the full Jude Neale experience through the deceptive simplicity of a sequence of things that, more or less probably, could be pink. Suck it and see.


Susanna Braund holds a Canada Research Chair in Professor of Latin Poetry and its Reception at UBC and has recently been awarded a Killam Research Fellowship in the national competition. She has published numerous books and papers on Latin literature and Roman culture. While teaching at Stanford University she broadcast a regular radio feature called “Myth Made Modern” in which she explored modern poets’ reworkings of ancient mythology.