Cecilia Frey – Under Nose Hill: A Poetry Sequence (2009)
Cecilia Frey is a prolific writer of poetry, plays, novels and short stories, and has been on my “meaning to read” list for some time now. Under Nose Hill seemed like a fitting entry point for me, mostly because I’m familiar with the landmark that Frey uses as a unifying element in this series of poems. Nose Hill is a vast green space in the northwest part of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pristine and untouched (although there is a push to create more formalized pathways now) and used by residents as a place to walk dogs or fly kites or cross-country ski or cycle or whatever appropriate activity they please. It’s a wild place, with few trees and not much in the way of wetland. It suggests the kind of prairie land that Calgary was built on, where native grasses still thrive and wildflowers appear in the spring. Deer and coyotes are frequent visitors. The most special thing about Nose Hill is that it exists as it does in a city of over one million people, all teeming around it, and that’s one of the dichotomies Frey works for in these poems. Most of these are simple and practical stories about Frey’s family, her garden, nights spent camping in the nearby mountains, the passing of seasons and time, but she couches them within greater themes: her quest for identity beyond and within motherhood, the historical role of the Canadian pioneer woman (the immigrant pioneer woman), and the solitary, often painful (by choice) existence of the writer. Frey isn’t a flowery poet; her language is precise, her form flexible. These are accessible poems that occasionally approach something really haunting and memorable: “Ode to Rain” is breathtaking in its existential scope, and the feelings of loss and longing in “Looking for a Poem” are heart-wrenching. It’s a solid, palatable collection.