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The Woman Who Went to the Moon by Rosemary Clewes
reviewed by Candice James

The Woman Who Went to the Moon
Rosemary Clewes
Innana Publications


This collection of poetry is a combination of memoir and insight into an outsider’s short stint spent in the Arctic village of Igloolik. Clewes successfully weaves folk-lore tales and current community life into a blanket that warms the chill of the immense northern landscape.

In “Dark Descending” these words beautifully paint the essence of Igloolik: ‘the white frozen sum of the world / sinks inside twilight’s blue pelt.” And in the poem “Igloolik” the poet’s paintbrush continues to bring the north alive with vibrant creativity; “if you stay in the town / that lies in the crook/ of the bay’s shady elbow / it’ll be a few days / before the sun bowls any heat down these streets.”

The poet pulls us along on her northern word sleigh as she delves into how important it is in the Arctic outback to have and hear the “elders” events witnessed retold as expressed in these lines excerpted from the poem “Witness”: ‘the weave of worlds yoked / to the silence of his mind’. And then, in a 180 degree turn, Clewes immerses us in a horrific old Eskimo tale passed down through generations; the word of mouth reiteration of events their forebears have seen and heard in years gone by. There is a gory bloodletting of old myth onto the snowy page in “The Sun and the Moon” where the Sun is the sister and the Moon is her brother: ‘She took her knife, sharpened it, cut off one of her breasts and tossed it to her brother, saying ‘Since you seem to be so fond of me, eat me then!”

In the poem “Ruth” gorgeous images of Igloolik abound in graceful and poetic dance: “you dip your brush in water paint / snow’s cursive as light bather in blue time - / crystals freezing on the page. // when your brush loses / its way you return to the horizon / where the season’s / Inuksuk shoulders the day.’

The poetic painting of life in Igloolik is vividly expressed in “Iglu” with word images of magazine pages glued to the walls, skins on the floor to sit on, sealskins wrapped around human shoulders and the warmth evidenced in the following lines: ‘Let the winter house speak to the walls / leaving no trace of the joins mortared by / moonlight’s blue flame.’

With the weave of the wand, her pen, Rosemary Clewes serves up a literary feast of poetic magic as she takes us on a magical, mystical sleigh ride through the pristine, white land of the ‘long moon’ and the culture of ‘Igloolik’. After leaving this feast for the mind, the reader’s soul will truly be sated!

Candice James is a poet, musician, visual artist, singer songwriter. She was Poet Laureate of New Westminster, BC for two 3 year terms 2010-2016. and awarded the title of Poet Laureate Emerita in November 2016 by the City. She is the author of thirteen poetry books, the most recent The Water Poems (Ekstasis Editions 2017).