Permiso, by Ronna Bloom, Pedlar Press, 105 pages, $20
P ermiso is one of those rare books whose title is so aligned with its overall spirit that it becomes an encapsulating metaphor for the poems within.
Ronna Bloom's fourth book of poetry is saturated with "permiso": permission to feel, to pause, to grieve, to resent and crave change, to admit that your heart pounds sometimes at pretty, silly things. "Great slabs of feeling I called me" ( This Sadness is Pitted with Love ).
Bloom's Public Works (Pedlar Press, 2003) was short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award. It centred on private experiences of public spaces, alternating with poems about the way private spaces (home, relationships) become uncomfortably foreign during rapid change such as a move, an estrangement, a heartbreak.
Permiso continues to explore this second theme of familiar or private space becoming unknown, even unknowable. Bloom is a psychotherapist and teacher, thus familiar with articulating the inarticulable, but her poems are not mini therapy sessions. She does not give us specifics, but deeper metaphor for the identity crises the poems address.
The opening poem, Water , embraces the terror, necessity and beauty of deep-change experiences in our lives. Paraphrasing it won't do it justice, but here's part of the core: "I listened as [the water]got closer. It scared me./ I could not pretend I didn't hear it/ bringing in its mouth, on its back,/ in its wake something new, something like/ terror …" Part of the "new" is a questioning of self, but part is also an openness to relief. A permission to feel relief at the release of stagnation.
One of the most refreshing allowances Bloom gives herself in this collection is the room to describe how other writers and other people affect her. Not in a name-dropping way, but in a way that reveals the rhizomes beneath her images.
Something to Rest On blends memories of poems by Jan Zwicky and Jane Hirschfield with memories of an elderly Aunt Lillian. Magical Thinking, Year Of , is an incredible narrative poem that relates watching Joan Didion watch Vanessa Redgrave being Joan. She's frank: "At the end she says, 'I let go.' I didn't believe it. Couldn't feel it."
The gesture of tracing influence is usually relegated to interviews about literature ("What inspired you to write this?") rather than embedded in literature itself. Bloom's take on engaging deeply with other writers stands out as open and generous, and made me once again skeptical about our ongoing cultural habit of asking writers and artists to invent themselves as isolated.
The other main theme in Permiso is the second half of wrestling change: trying to understand release. Whether in the dynamic between Joan and Vanessa and grief, or in the guts of Bloom's own renewals, the poems seek freshness. Seek the ability to move from a "cartoon" world where everything is allowed to a physical world that offers so much latitude:
"to put the feet on, become flesh/ and colour and bone and callus and walk./ Barefoot on the soft. To be/ allowed and able. To be able/ because allowed. To want the/ grass. La la. To want the grass" ( Everything is Allowed ). I admire the lilt of this, the embrace of potential "silliness" that isn't trite, the way the line breaks push the simple words into rhythm.
Bloom's synthesis of contradictory passions into graceful poetics connects Permiso to writing by Adrienne Rich ( Dark Fields of the Republic ), Ann Carson ( The Beauty of the Husband ), Esta Spalding ( The Wife's Account ). Thinkers, feelers, in conversation with the music of language, building on the gift of accepting almost any sound - in this case any subject matter - as permissible textures for honest poems.
Meg Walker writes from Dawson City and Vancouver.