Reviewed by Jeffrey Mackie
I have been familiar with the work of Carolyn Marie Souaid for some time. Her work has always been for me arresting and engaging. I have read one of her first works, October, a book of poetry that dealt with the October crisis in Quebec, and her most recent novel Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik. Her work engages with social and political issues, but on a very human level. She knows that behind the political words and social action, there is often the messy business of just being human.
I believe that the poems in The Eleventh Hour also reveal Marie Souaid’s ability to see beneath the surface. All were written during the months of the pandemic, one might say months, days, hours of lockdown. The collection's title, The Eleventh Hour, might suggest an apocalyptic sense, but the poems deal with the life that continues to go on during larger events such as the pandemic. That is not to say that the events in the poems occurred during the pandemic, but the poems remind us of daily life and concerns. In the words of the first poem in the collection "Augury 1": “the world is calling out for the world.”
In the poem “Exercise in Stillness,” she writes “I promised I would sit and meditate, reach for my breath, my centre, I would find my healing, I would not under any circumstances sabotage myself.” In the second stanza, she notes “… others on the same park bench with the peeling paint….” A compelling snapshot of someone who has a resolution for self-improvement or spiritual enlightenment and the myriad distractions that interrupt the pursuit. It is a readily identifiable moment for many, the seeker or the writer all prepared only to be stymied by interior and exterior distractions. While we have not been on that bench, our minds can conjure up our place and the distractions which invade our attempts to engage a discipline.
Full disclosure, in my past as a radio journalist I have interviewed Marie Souaid about her work. I know of her work in, and her fondness for the North, specifically northern Quebec. When I went north to work myself, my experiences and impressions became a topic of conversation for us. In fact, I began to read this collection while on a plane out of Inuvik, NWT. In the poem “Meanwhile North of the 60th,” she offers social comment on attitudes towards Indigenous people. The poem is not sloganeering but makes its point through observed details and recorded conversation. Over a fine meal, “their voices build, They ruminate, they postulate, …Another suicide they remark. Booze and abuse and god knows what.” But the poem also turns the critique back on the author, who is there with Indigenous art and handicrafts, they are not exempt from suspicion. We also see a level of self-reflection here, that one might like to see in white activists who only show up for the barricades.
The poem “We Christians” offers the reader another poignant snapshot. A street scene of “broken men with stains on their teeth and piss on their pants,” people we may pass every day and ignore or possibly judge. In the poem, the author sees passersby judging these men and then judges the former. The poem asks, “How do we continue this way/ Judging others…” All the judging is getting us nowhere and not solving our problems. The Christian invocation “judge not lest you be judged” sprung to mind here. This poem also has a larger poignancy during the pandemic, as we see many judging the behaviour of others, not helping our neighbours but spying on them.
The Eleventh Hour is a strong and immediate collection, and Carolyn Marie Souaid’s words call our attention to things we need to see in our 21st-century world. They also call us to reflect on what we see and know, to be attentive to love, to others and ultimately the passage of time.
The Eleventh Hour is published by Ekstasis Editions
Reverend Jeffrey Mackie is a Canadian poet and literary journalist. He lives and works in Dawson City, Yukon, where he is an Anglican Deacon.