Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Sandra Ridley offers a breathtaking, harrowing immersion in cruelty behind different veils: the medieval hunt, ecological collapse, and intimate partner violence.
Sparked by a haunting chance encounter with a fox, and told in six chapters of varying form, Vixen is as visceral as it is mysterious, sensuous as it is terrifying.
“Thicket” introduces us to stalking being akin to hunting; the similar threat of terror and—too often—a violent end. “Twitchcraft” locates the hunt in the home, the wild in the domestic, while “Season of the Haunt” explores the unrelenting nature of hunting. “Stricken” asks common questions that often implicitly justify such violence: Is the harassment ‘bad enough’ to allow us to label it criminal? Has all control been taken? Is the fear reasonable?
Vixen propels us to examine the nature of empathy, what it means to be a compassionate witness, and what happens when brutality is so ever-present that we become numb. This is a beautiful, difficult, wild tapestry of defiance and survival.
Saskatchewan born-and-raised Ridley has always worked with the structure of the long poem, and this collection further highlights an ongoing attention to lyric and structure, offering not a book but a poem, book-length; one that extends across a landscape that includes works by Sylvia Legris, Monty Reid, Andrew Suknaski and Robert Kroetsch, among so many others, reaching to see just how far that lyric landscape might travel. And yet, her poems also give the sense of a lyric folded over and across itself, lines that collect and impact upon each other from a multitude of directions and into a singular, polyphonic voice. This is a stunning collection, and deserves to be win every award —rob mclennan
“In four distinct sections, Ridley skilfully uses various forms, white space, and imagery to widen the dialogue and explain the toll endured (‘even if you live the consequences outlive the duration of harassment’) and the desire to take back your rights and what’s right (‘you want to walk alone day or night’).” —Wanda Praamsma The Toronto Star
For all that the speaker in Vixen exposes and understands cruelty in many guises, whether it is imposed on animals or on humans, Ridley’s vision from the outset is bent toward empathy and compassion: “Unto the ends of the earth —/ if an end will come for us, let it befall.// The end will come to pass. // The ends of knives, the ends of staves, the ends of traps.// Imagine that.” Here is hope and challenge: not for a world wherein violence never was, but for a world in which we choose to end it; not for pacification, but for peace —Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen, The Winnipeg Free Press
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