“It is a lie that beautiful words have disappeared. I have myself a trunkful in the attic, and thousands more buried underground,” says Leon Rooke in his latest book of poetry, The April Poems, and I believe him. Though he may not have intended those words for himself, they are true of him, as this little book of poems more than amply proves. It tells the shared life of April and Sam in verses that move without warning or hesitation, as relationships do, between desire — “I licked blue plates in cheap diners, thinking of her” — humour — “Love needs new shoes but is out of work” — and sorrow — “My own voice Is an ache in the heart, The soft mew of the cat Before she falls dead.” In these and other ways, Rooke takes the everyday happenings of a domestic relationship and makes them wonderful, not by elevating or magnifying them, but by insisting on them just as they are — squalid and splendid, banal and profound, playful and earnest.
What impresses me most about The April Poems, however, is that they go a long way toward resolving a tension that I have always found in Rooke’s work. I first discovered Rooke when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, attending my first Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, where he immediately won my imagination by arriving in a canoe and then delivering a wildly engaging and humorous performance. I spent every dime I had to buy his book, The Good Baby, and I began reading it right there by the Eramosa River as I waited for my parents to pick me up, only to discover that although Rooke’s writing is often very good, it can never quite manage to meet the expectations set by his performances. Everything he writes, especially his dialogue, seems to be waiting for him to come and speak it aloud and give it a true voice.
All of this is to say that the greatest compliment I can offer The April Poems is that it feels almost as if Rooke himself is reading it, as if he has given the poems something of his own vitality and audacity. As he says himself, “There’s a way of getting a poem to the page without utilizing words,” and The April Poems has this kind of wordless poetry, a poetry of relationship and voice and character, a poetry that makes The April Poems more than just a trunkful of words, however beautiful.