Omens In The Year Of The Ox
By Steven Price
Brick Books, 103 pp., $19
Omens in the Year of the Ox is award-winning Victoria poet Steven Price's highly engaging, and often quite dark, second book of poetry. It has taken six years for this second collection to make its way to readers, though he did publish a novel last year, but it will be quickly evident that it has been worth the wait.
Poetry, like many forms of art, can be intimidating to the casual reader. There can be an underlying worry of "what if I don't get it," and this fear can keep many from discovering some wonderful uses of words. When one reads a perfectly constructed poem it is like seeing a great painting, and even if the particular rules of the form are unknown to the reader, the fact that you are experiencing a work of art is perfectly clear. Price has filled this collection with vivid moments of art.
The poems in Omens In The Year Of The Ox are as varied in style as they are in subject, and Price shows a deft hand over the many subjects he tackles. Whether describing the cellar of Gaudi's Palau Guell, ancient Greek heroes or something as familiar as an arbutus tree, Price offers readers a dark spin on the world around (and within) them.
If grief were given shape, if grief
were given shape it would grow like this in a horror of limbs, and headless
- from Arbutus
A chorus of voices makes repeated appearances throughout the book, carrying on an internal conversation of doubt and fear with the narrator and helping to join the first and last sections of the book together.
"he thinks he can ignore us," one hissed; "this singing he signed on for never had sense in it."
"Stubborn." For God's sake, I muttered, I can hear you, I'm here, I'm right here-
- from Chorus
The voices of the Chorus take a break in the middle section, which is still earnest but contains a number of poems that are a bit more fun. Price offers readers a trio of curses that continue with the dark themes in the poems -
May you wake weeping to your life each morning: may what is hidden keep ever hidden.
-from Midwife's curses
- but also include a few that are impossible not to smile at and make for a nice break amongst the solemn tones.
May you sleep long and late; may you wake with fingers smooth as cream
- from Gardner's Curses
May all the ills you wished on others come to pass.
- from Curses of the Blind
While darker and not quite as accessible as Anatomy of Keys, Price's previous book of poems centreed around the life of Houdini, Omens In The Year Of the Ox is a collection from an exceedingly talented writer. These are poems that deserve to be savoured and given time to truly sink in, something this reviewer had trouble with as I read the collection from cover to cover in a single sitting. I have, however, found myself going back repeatedly to re-read selections. For a bookseller, poetry always tends to be a hard sell, but Steven Price is a perfect example of why it is worth the effort.
Colin Holt is a reviewer and bookseller in Victoria.