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The Divining Pool thrusts itself into the world with a gruesome and startling overture. “Take a sharp, heavy object,” Amanda Merritt implores us in her opening line – and she proceeds to describe, with beautiful and unflinching anatomical detail, the process of removing an “apple seed” of anxiety from the beating chambers of the heart. It’s brutal, and it finds purpose and prettiness in that brutality. Any reader who might however have thought, at this point, that Merritt had done anything as accommodating as set a pervading tone for the collection would be sorely disappointed.
The Divining Pool is by turns uncomfortable and homely, lyrical and dryly straightforward, drawing from the classical as much as from the personally observed. Never is it dull or unpleasant, however, and none of the above detracts from its being an absolute triumph. Only a truly poetic mind could, as Merritt does in 'The Pier, Howe Sound', write of how the “moon steps from the wreath/of her robe and bares heaven’s scars.” I am reminded of Oscar Wilde here, when he writes conversely of the dawn being the lifting of “veil after veil of dusky gauze,” and it should go without saying that this is a high compliment. Only – to go further – only a brave poet indeed would rewrite the myth of the Fall such that it is transfigured from a tragic folly to the deliberate, assured and triumphant murder of Adam by Eve, as we find it in 'A Song for Lilith'. The late Leonard Cohen once remarked that “if your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” Such ash is offered here as to evoke the clarion burning of magnesium – Merritt’s life is one to be in awe, and perhaps a little bit in terror of, if Cohen is to be believed.
Her achievement is one of being able to convey feeling as often as by what is omitted as what is committed to the page – 'Oh Alice', one of the finer poems in this book, is also one of the shorter efforts, and its title suggests both an unfinished address and an unmentioned addressee. If this is not the stuff of “spell[s that] make the heart begin,” I don’t know what is. In a tender and indeed somewhat self-critical letter to a lover somewhere in the middle of this collection, Merritt remarks that she “hate[s] the human predicament/but that’s not original.” She needn’t have worried. One closes her book with both a more honest love for the complex human condition, and a sure-as-hell sense of this poet’s iridescent originality.
Other reviews for The Divining Pool:
"The Divining Pool unites restless and edgy inventiveness with a sense of the classical that seems to me rare in a first collection. This is the rich, tender, carefully crafted work of a poet who dares to soar, in the sure confidence that, should she fall, she has the imaginative gifts to document the enterprise in poignant detail."
"Lyrical yet laced with more than a hint of menace, these subtly cadenced poems register with intense precision moments of parting and recognition. Amanda Merritt's first collection establishes her as deftly alert to hurt and beauty, and as a compelling new voice in Canadian poetry."
Amanda Merritt is a poet and a creative writing instructor from Victoria, BC. Amanda’s debut poetry collection, The Divining Pool, was published in October 2017 by Wundor Editions, and was recently nominated for the Gerald Lampert award. Previously, she was presented with the 2015 Anstruther poetry award, and was among the finalists included in Aesthetica’s 2017 Creative Writing Annual anthology. Her work appears in journals in Canada and the UK, including Descant, Grain, Prairie Fire, Qwerty, Untethered and Stand.