Blood Orange is a book of visceral power. “There’s so much we must be witness to,” Heidi Garnett reminds us. A child growing up in a divided Europe, her poems map a migration –particularly her own and her mother’s – while simultaneously marking the conflict between countries. The past is printed on the present in these luminous, resonant, and deeply compelling poems.
“To live in this world,” Heidi Garnett writes, “we must learn to forgive the unforgiveable.” In this sequel to her first collection, Phosphorus, about her Mennonite family’s experience in WW2 Germany, Garnett’s generous imagination moves among the sufferings and losses endured by civilians during wartime. Invoking childhood memories of her own bare survival and forced migration to western Canada, Garnett shapes deeply-layered metaphors to carry the reader across landscapes of grief and silence. Blood Orange is sublime, shocking, beautiful poetry.
Heidi Garnett’s poems contain the grief of a century in a collection that wrenches the mind. The poems are immaculate in their expression, each one formed to stop the heart. As fine a book as you will find this year.
Read it and weep.
Blood Orange ponders the resilience of the human spirit as it explores the meaning of home (Heimat) and homelessness, and circles themes such as forced displacement and loss. Memory is interrogated, but never completely trusted as the poems shift back and forth between post-war Poland and western Canada, the past and present day and other unnameable time frames. Life and death, eros and thantos intermingle in a world in which a mother braids her child’s hair with hands of smoke and “where there is nowhere to sit comfortably” or feel safe, a world in which one is forever a refugee and without legitimate citizenship.
Heidi Garnett’s Phosphorous is a poignant assertion of the ubiquitous nature of personal history.
Summoning the spirits and voices of those who suffered and endured the torments of Nazi Germany in World War II, Garnett relocates their moments of despair and suffering into poems of lament and reprieve. While family history simmers in the fragments of what is known and what isn’t, the unshakable knowledge of “skulls knitted together at the margins” informs the present. In all the rituals of immigration to Canada, and the journey west, and in the celebrations of acceptance, hard work and safety, the memories of the past are never far away. Through these biographical poems Garnett reminds us that though we “try to keep our distance” from the loss, pain and suffering of our histories, we cannot escape “the hooked branch that grafts the past/to now”.
BEHIND THE WORDS
Heidi Garnett was born near Gdansk (Danzig) during the Second World War. Prior to being expulsed in 1945-46, her Mennonite family had farmed the delta called the Danziger Werder
since the 1570s. Her poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies across Canada, in England and in California. She was shortlisted for the Arvon prize in London and was
runner-up for the Rattle prize in Los Angeles. In addition, she has won the Descant Winston Collins prize and placed or been shortlisted in poetry contests sponsored by Canada Writes, Arc, Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, CV2, Freefall and Room. She was awarded the Timothy Findlay scholarship by Humber College for her fiction work and included in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, ed. Stephanie Bolster, in 2008. She graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC Okanagan in 2010.
Heidi is presently working on an historical novel based on a tape her father left to be listened to after his death, a story about a man who in the summer of 1945 walks across war torn Germany as far as Gdansk, Poland, to find his wife and child who may or may not be alive now Russian troops have taken control of that area. The book spans many important and little known events that occurred on the Eastern Front in which her family was involved.
After Heidi graduated from UBC O she was asked to teach Creative Writing in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies.
THE WRITING OF HEIDI GARNETT
LAUNDRY DAY 1
Sheep with horns twisted round ears
and legs folded into heavy bolsters
rest in a farmer’s field, washerwomen
gossiping about this and that,
but mostly the inclement weather.
They shake their heads and wonder
why rain clouds take forever to dry
even when wrung out by hand.
IN DRESDEN THE DEAD WEAR NO CLOTHES
On days like this fire moves with cold disregard
for those who make spectacles of themselves
by waving arms about like burning torches
and shouting for help when there’s none available,
but what should a body do
trapped, as it is, in the basement of its own house?
Incendiaries sound like waterfalls as they wail
their way down. Cookie bombs clink
like silver coins jingled in a leather pouch.
Flames leap from one roof to another and meld
into a firestorm sucking in whatever breathes.
Listen, friend, it is best not to scream
and use up what oxygen is left when the candle burns blue.
Best not to peel your flesh overcoat off
no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Divert the mind
from its usual route through the Market Square
where angels with scorched wings sort souls
into used clothes piles. Think winter, think snow.
Someone comes, someone goes, a drop
in body weight, temperature, as silence gathers the room
around itself, a stillness in the air, a sigh
and, then, whoever was there is gone, soliloquy
without speech. It is December and crows perch
on a candelabra of burnt branches and a life
that was wick, a waxed string holding a flame aloft,
has puddled in a waxy saucer. No blessing
of light now—lumin, lumino, lumini—
no prince to the rescue, no identifiable remains.
Mother braids my hair
with hands of smoke.
She plaits the strands
into scorched ropes and
ties them together
with ribbons of fire.
She wraps me in a wet sheet,
kisses me on the cheek
and cries, Run!