Monty Reid’s The Luskville Reductions: Poems from a Phantom Settlement

          Just received: Monty Reid’s Luskville Reductions (London, Ontario: Brick Books, 2010) Wonderful to become acquainted with Reid’s work and in particular with the lovely and meditative poems of loss explored in this collection. Luskville, as Reid points out, is a “phantom” settlement,which implies to me a ghost town.
          Well, perhaps not exactly. A phantom settlement might never have contained a population substantial enough to merit a place name on a map much less incorporation as a town, but there it is on Google Earth or MapQuest, a name mysteriously planted in the midst of fields or perhaps at a deserted crossroads. Population: a couple of families of armadillos and a fox den. And perhaps a few human ghosts seeking a hamlet that never was.
          Reid explains in a brief preface that “Luskville is a phantom settlement on the Ottawa River in western Quebec. I lived there for five years, until my partner, nursing a suite of dissatisfactions, returned to Alberta in 1994.  Before she left, she planted a dozen varieties of daylilies.” The phantom settlement is the appropriately poignant location for the theme of the failed relationship in which the beloved has moved away, and left a reminder of her presence with a garden of daylilies.
          The word “reductions” hinges on at least a couple of meanings that resonate throughout the book. Most obviously, the phantom settlement of Luskville as well as the life of the speaker of these poems have been reduced by the absence of his lover. And the places and objects in Luskville that constantly remind the speaker of his loss become reduced or distilled with reminders of her, and he displaces his grief onto the world that she once inhabited, rehearsing through these distillations stubborn traces of their life together that infuse the present with the past. The concentrated loci of presence of the lost lover within her absence form the predominant trope in these poems.
          The poems aren’t all explicitly about the loss of his partner, but even when he’s describing a garden hose and the traces of its “soul” in the kinks and dead bugs that remain as he is storing the hose for winter, the more devastating loss and its traces hover over all of these poems, whose emotional impact is most effective when the correspondence between phantom and displaced grief is most understated.

A sample:

The rain is finished

but the way rain beads on the dented fenders
of what has been loved


The rain is finished

but the sheen of rain still on the concrete

Rags of light
pegged behind the thunderclouds.

The rain is finished
but there is always something

in the lid of the body
that resists

and something with bigger holes in it
than the holes in rain.


I am awake

a slight fragrance in the room
or the memory of a slight fragrance

like the lotion I rubbed into your shoulders
and the hard little scar low on your back
where you had the mole removed

dead skin you said

but at night it would shine a little

How far away
is it, again?

Rub the stars
and the glow still finds us

even though the source is vanishing
at incomprehensible speed.


Camille Martin

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