Watermarks Author: Laura Burkhart
Publisher: Wild Sage Press Web: http://www.wildsagepress.biz/books/watermarks
You might suppose creative licence means you can do whatever you like as an artist, but much like any licence, say for driving, hunting, or practicing medicine, there are rules to follow. Creative licence isn’t a hall pass into anarchy – artists have an obligation to their craft to make it worth our attention and time. Some art might teach, while other art might simply teach the lesson of beauty.
Laura Burkhart’s Watermarks is a collection of Carpe Diem poetry, the purpose of which is to teach us to seize the day, and by extension, our lives. To find fulfilling personal experiences, Burkhart’s poems seem to say, is a pursuit of transcendence above our egos. After all, the final piece, a sonnet titled “Time”, ends with the phrase, “Time is of the essence. Who said that?” Burkhart’s question perhaps points to our desire to find answers at the risk of missing the point.
We are finite; one day even our legacies will be watermarks on stone. Why not leave a beautiful mark?
I don’t mean to turn this review into an epistemology discussion – because truly, Burkheart’s Watermarks is a tour of gaping wonder. While asking the big questions about life, her command of sound alone lifts us to that higher plane of the sublime. Note the lilting line in “Household Effects”:
An accessory to beautify, frou-frou embellishment, gimcrack knickknack, maybe one
they chose together on a rare outing to the country on one Sunday afternoon touring
The speaker in this poem discusses her curiosity regarding a news story about a woman who murders her husband with a “household ornament.” The poem is both an absurd seize-the-day story and, simply, is a lot of fun to read.
Many of Burkhart’s works are playful, such as the opening “Advice from Noah’s Wife”, in which the prophet’s marital partner questions the logistics of the biblical journey and her husband, who needs looking after just as much as the animals. Gender is a prominent theme of Watermarks, as many of the female voices are empathizing tourists journeying through Hawaii, the Middle East, and Asia. Their surroundings are mystical, and the people in them are curiosities, sometimes tragically so.
The transition from ecstasy to tragedy is stark in Watermarks. “Feed Me”, an example of ecstasy, is a call to worldly delights:
Start with that strawberry, the crimson one,
plump drops of moisture on its skin. Then move on
to praise a poet, Rumi say, or sing a psalm
of David to Bathsheba. Next on the menu
a belly laugh so deep and pure it attaches
to my wit and holds me tight
as you do in the night.Several poems later, we are brought to “Burdened As We Are”. Here, “Headstones grow from our spines.” The transition from “Feed Me,” where the body is built for pleasure becomes a thing that will ultimately pass. Burkhart teaches us to pass on to the next life, without passing up this one.
Devin Pacholik is a book reviewer with Global News Regina, an Editor with Fine Lifestyles, Business Regina, and Business Saskatoon magazines, a humourist, and author.