Judith Fitzgerald. Impeccable Regret. (Talonbooks 2015).
This book could have as easily been titled Impeccable Mourning, for in a way it is one long series of elegies – for, as Thomas Dilworth suggests in his Introduction, various losses: ‘of humanistic culture to reductive, rationalist-materialist civilization;’ of people she loved or admired, to death. And sadly, as she died in November 2015, these poems so lively in their energy-against-death sign her own elegy, a fitting memorial to a fiery, committed poet.
Although many of the poems in Impeccable Regret sing the loss of people Fitzgerald knew – lovers, friends, fellow writers – they are not ‘personal’ lyrics in any conventional sense. Instead, ‘There, sheer irrefuturability of finitude building, / this unparalleled heliotropic periwinkling glorioso play / remains, encarved upon our frangible Coney killstrings / in lonesome-on-her-ownsome anthemic disarray.’ This quatrain demonstrating the kind of high flying rhetoric Fitzgerald utilizes throughout to play the poetic game on a different level than simple lyric (egoistic) cry.
These poems are high-wire performances, in which all the glories of poetic history are employed, with sheer bravado, wit, & pizzazz. Puns, rhymes, & so many neologisms & portmanteau words (Joyce’s influence clearly present, & his name referenced just to be sure): they will keep a reader wide-awake parsing their possibilities. This is a highly allusive poetry, nodding not only to the many poets named (& mourned) throughout, but also to favorite songs & literature ancient & modern. They are meant to be read aloud, & allowed to sing their various notes as fully throated as possible.
Fitzgerald wants her readers to remember with her just how many wonderful writers (in Canada alone) have died & left us bereft, as one poem is titled. That poem’s short lines (there is such a range of verse forms here) make it brutally clear (the ‘you’ here anyone you choose): ‘We don’t know when / You left – when you / Left us to die. // The truth, always / Slippery – bows, / Exit stage depth.’ She names many of those lost, bpNichol, Gwendolyn MacEwan, Robin Blaser, Robert Kroetsch, but does not fully name the lost one in the long title poem, it seems she was too close, too great a loss. Yet in all these elegies, the gifts – of art, of beauty made – register & their memory enriches the poet, her poem, & her readers who know them, too.
Impeccable Regret is a rich stew of language pushed to extravagant possibilities in the service of remembering the best of what our culture has given us. A fitting tribute to all those it recalls, & to the poet whose final offering it has become.