“Something terrible may one day happen to you.”
This is as strong an opening line to a book of poetry as there has ever been, and de Leeuw holds fast to her promise to keep the reader always uncertain of the future in a hopeful but worrying way.
Poetry, while one of the most intrinsic expressions of the human condition and soul, often shies away from the mechanical and intimate peculiarities of everyday life. For that reason, I’m not sure if I took so happily to this collection simply because sex in poetry seems a novelty, or because de Leeuw addresses the topic in a particular novel way. If I were less certain a person, I’d lean to the former, but I think it’s easy to say that both in form and substance, Geographies of a Lover is a radically innovative take on love poems, and one that strikes new ground into a path that other writers should do their best to follow.
After reading a few poems in this collection, two things become evident: 1) Every poem, barring the addresses at the beginning of each section (also written akin to one another) is written in the same breathless, prose-poetry fashion, and 2) The titles will give you no lens into the poem proper unless you’re willing to do your homework. Each poem’s title represents a set of latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, which, plugged into GoogleMaps, reveals a little something extra about each poem. The act of Googling every title would be a bit laborious, but in order, here’s an example by way of the first four poems, and what I was able to discover about them:
Poem 1: 46° 46’50.09”N, 71° 10’58.43”W – Address: 608-630 Rue Hector Fabre, Lévis, Quebec.
Poem 2: 53° 55’06.71”N, 122° 43’39.25”W – 202-6624 River Road, Prince George, BC.
Poem 3: 42° 59’03.26”N, 81° 13’05.25”W – Address: 166-174 Roberts Avenue, London, Ontario.
Poem 4: 53° 55’06.72”N, 122° 43’39.25”W – Address: a return to River Road, one smidgen to the north.
Even more than the titles, zooming in to a street level gives a small glimpse of the scenery de Leeuw invokes in each rambling contrast of intimacy and scenery—the first address is a sprawl of well-kept suburban lawns, the second a long, sprawling stretch of tree-lined road, and the third a grungy alley lined with old trucks and graffiti-covered dumpsters. The visual depiction isn’t exactly mirrored in each poem, but the themes are there, and having a window to decode a little more of the message is very rewarding.
My only large critique against such an interesting and refreshing collection is that, in setting out with an ambitious aim and subject matter, de Leeuw does herself no favours by keeping so strictly to the format she’s laid out within each poem. The constant jumping juxtaposition between human and natural became a bit grating after reading it over and over again, and some of the visual metaphors were somewhat cliché (rushing rivers representing a climax standing out as a bit of a tired example). None of this detracted from the overall power of the work, but it did keep it from pulling beyond the ledge labelled “great” and onto the platform of “amazing.”
I would still highly recommend this collection to anyone who needs a dose of something new and skin-tingling in poetry. It was hard not to feel trickles of erotic and romantic underpinnings after each poem, as de Leeuw masterfully sketches portraits of a lover’s embrace, and does so without shying away from the raw, dirty vocabulary necessary to make such a thing seem real.