By Rob Rolfe
Reading Saugeen was like visiting the cottage of a close friend. I was invited to stay awhile, and explore the area dense with history and natural beauty. It felt like taking a small but necessary vacation from the dreary March weather. The poetry flows with ease and grace as the master storyteller guides the reader through the different regions introducing us to the locals and their history. The poems themselves speak to the concerns of the landscape and the often rough and industrial beauty that can be found there. The relationship between nature and humanity is one of give and take: “breaking rocks in a quarry/ dull hands shattered stone a hard life/ breaking the fragile back of the earth” (17). Both man and the earth suffer, each trying to earn the right to exist apart from the other. On the other hand, there is optimism present in part one of the collection which promotes a hope despite the possibilities: “In the early days the sound was wide open/ life muscled its way up from the docks/ damnation or salvation a choice at every corner” (25).
There is a very human element at play throughout this collection and moments of intense pathos:“the silent poverty in the trampled shacks…where fog bites into the somber coast” (71).
Between Charlotte and Jimmie, Rolfe paints a picture of what life was like for both men and women and the physical extremes they endured and overcame because of the landscape. I was particularly touched by the journey Charlotte made every day on the lake despite her fear of it in order to work, and the warmth she radiated despite her circumstances.
What I liked best about this collection was the way it guided me not only through the history of the region, but through the tension between the forces of industrialization and nature — one must retreat: “gravel roads dissect the forests…foxes fishers slip into the shadows” (79). It is terribly sad and one does not need to look far to see the same implications at work even today. We have already lost much we cannot get back and Saugeen attempts to restore a sense of what used to be. A golden age. Saugeen is an accesible and sincere collection anyone would have the pleasure of reading – and I hope you