Friday, June 9, 2023

Book Review: Danger Flower by Jaclyn Desforges

Title: Danger Flower
Author: Jaclyn Desforges
Publisher: Palimpsest Press/Anstruther Books
Publication Date: 2021

The winner of last year’s Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry, Jaclyn Desforges’ Danger Flower is a tour de force in a deceptively small volume. I’ve often said that poetry is one of the most powerful of literary arts in that it takes the reader by surprise; a single line or specific word choice can evoke a whole range of imagery that lasts long after you’ve finished reading. And here, Desforges’ poetic voice is a visceral sensation that evokes so many images and electrifies the senses that this small volume of mere 80 pages feels like it’s bursting with primal power and, yes, danger.

Not giving away the ending, the final poem of Danger Flower ends with the words “and millions of bacteria love you”; honestly, there’s no better way to sum up the strange yet enticing imagery at work. Desforges conjures the surreal highs and lows of emotions while utilizing the sights, sounds, smells and tactile sensations of the biological world. And we aren’t simply talking about the leaves from a tree or the kaleidoscope of a rainbow. Nature in Desforges’ poetry is visceral and primeval, something that inspires awe and dread in equal measure. These self-same bacteria are busy getting it on (alongside spawning salmon and rutting bears) in the evocative and titillating poem “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”. And in “I’d Rather Be Drab”, Desforges relates the beautiful yet stark life cycle of cecropia moths in poetry lined with scientific terminology. In “Birth”, she compares herself to a sturgeon that wriggles in the mud to “lay eggs and wash my face with cold water”.

During her acceptance speech at this year’s Hamilton Literary awards, Desforges remarked on her own motherhood and it’s clear this theme is guiding inspiration throughout the book. But these inspirations are not sentimental; her words don’t evoke some idyllic notion of maternal bliss. On the contrary, Desforges conjures the pain, anxiety and the deepest wells of primal care. “A Process of Maturation” reads as a sonnet to all that child is and will ever be (“Here is Anna and here is Anna’s body and here is Anna’s hat…”) while “Ventilation” reads as a mother’s lament (“Your children will come inside and you’ll feed them, You’ll only hurt them in ways you can’t possibly control”). “Birth” starts with the clinical chill of “Perfection is bleeding an average amount overnight” and ends with the confessional “If I sleep I’m afraid I’ll forget her”.

Desforges’ writing is raw and vulnerable. Again from “Birth” she tells readers how “My dreams aren’t dreams that come from soft places”. In “Opossum Poem”, she admits that seeing her daughter feeding from her breast conjures “the thousand ways I’ve seen her die in the years she’s been alive”. At the same time, her words inspire a fierce confidence. She owns who she is as well as how others might want her to be. In “Forest Fire”, she declares “Say slut three times and I appear, Say slut four times and I get a master’s degree”. And in “An Incel Steps on a Snail” she taunts with the words “Would you like to crush me? You can’t. The only suffering in this forest is yours.”

Desforges’ combination of raw honesty, earthy wisdom, and wild imagery seemingly plucked from the world of the fae makes Danger Flower one of the strongest books of poetry I’ve had the chance to read in a while. Certainly, her unapologetic yet deeply vulnerable tone distinguishes her as one of the rising stars in the  Hamilton literary scene. Desforges has already earned numerous accolades for her work including the RBC/PEN Canada New Voice Award and HPL’s Short Works Prize. With this award-winning collection, she deftly shows a bold writing voice with an exciting promise for the future.

Stephen Near
Stephen Near
Stephen Near is a freelance writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. He works at Mohawk and Humber College and is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Stephen's plays have been produced at the Hamilton Fringe Festival and Theatre Aquarius and he is completing his first fiction novel.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles