Annick MacAskill’s debut poetry collection No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018) strikes me as off limits—as fenced-in under high security. Perhaps MacAskill’s personal vignettes and anecdotes—conveyed through the work and labour of figures such as Aristophanes, Hildegard von Bingen, and Ovid—will resonate with the guiding metaphors of other readers’ life and loves. But I am straining, from the other side of a barrier, to hear conversation that may not want to be heard.
For instance, when MacAskill flirts with physicality—“kissing me as if you expected / answers along my gums” (“Bloor West”) and kissing “all afternoon” (“Cold Weather Warning”)—I yearn for slow, lingering smells and sounds to accompany these suggestions of intimacy. But each piece quickly dusts itself off and regains its measured, elegant composure.
Likewise, much of MacAskill’s verse is characterized by turns of phrase that strategically lead away from—rather than toward—each poem’s vulnerable interior. “Labour Day” closes with “two lines on the stick”—an image of pregnancy testing long ago colonized by advertising. Similarly, the presence of a cellphone is “confirmed in flashing light” (“Metamorphoses”)—the warning beacon of every thinkpiece about the digital age.
In “Limbs,” a brother’s mouth is described as a “laconic beast” and an “iconoclastic blastocyst.” This deliberate mouthful is a clever evocation that gives the reader less the specificity of this brother than, I would suggest, a comedic diversion about bombast. I can guess what the brother is like, but I am not offered a robust portrait—only a caricature in silhouette.
Yet in “November,” my favourite piece, a cold month personified bursts with particularity in a way that the human occupants of MacAskill’s work are rarely permitted to do: “November is an art installation / of air, gravity, and concrete” that we can recognize “by the canned tomatoes / in her cart.” Here, MacAskill makes the most of late fall’s eerie liminality to straddle novelty and candour. I found myself, finally, with a foothold in the loose stones of an otherwise impenetrable wall.