Review of Second Growth
Fabienne Calvert Filteau’s debut collection is one of the latest additions to a growing body of poetic work emerging from the small towns and rugged landscapes of northern British Columbia. Like her contemporaries from the region—who between them have published at least half a dozen collections since 2012—Filteau’s work is an ode to the land she inhabits. Like theirs, her poetry is a bold and unsentimental meditation on northern landscapes and the humans that reside there.
While awake to the beauty of this world, Filteau is uninterested in delivering a wilderness ideal or picturesque sublime. Instead, these poems are unflinchingly attentive to nature as we have reimagined it: clearcut and devastated, loud with the “scream of slash piles,” laced with the same toxicity as the society decamped there. Drawing on a decade spent working in clearcuts and tree planting camps, Filteau describes capitulation to capital accumulation, where mind-numbed servants number off the hours with daydreams of the consumer goods their labour will purchase. To be in this landscape is to hammer in hundreds of trees, to coast through the mindless drudgery of repetitive exertion broken by the body’s needs and the dangerous vagaries of weather. This is a lived-in landscape of hard work and hardship, by turns broken and sutured, pristine and inviolable.
The book’s title and epigraph encourage a reading of spliced body and landscape—a sentiment that carries both warning and hope. Gritty resource industries threaten to bring out the worst in us (“Blistered gears of the buncher / caustic with years of sleet and grist / lurk at the clearcut’s edge, pedophilic”) even as they permit an authenticity of experience and relationship to the land that recreational forays cannot match. In this merging of land and body, “second growth,” the term for the forest that regenerates after an area has been logged, clearly includes the regrowth and healing of human hearts.
The final poem of the collection, “The River,” is a twenty-eight page sequence that ruminates on the attempted suicide of the speaker’s mother. In these pages, the urban riparian zone becomes witness, healer, and accomplice to death, bearing traces of “all the ways / we have not learned / to heal ourselves” on rocks poised to catch bodies in freefall. Yet even along a river that receives the city’s sewage, garbage and desolate souls there is room for hope as the stream billows with the runoff of a new spring.
Emotionally rich, vulnerable and courageous, this is a collection that thrums with the momentum of northern landscapes. It succeeds in capturing the industrial grind of that world as well as its cold splendour, its “topography of skidder trails” and its heavy solitude. Above all, it sees the land as the terrain of souls that, despite the struggle and hurt they have endured, find themselves startled by the beauty of a flock of birds, “a fleeting / sun-filled murmuration, millionwinged
/ swooping of the heart—”