CHAPBOOK REVIEW: BRIAN PURDY’S BLACK INK: PORTRAITS

April 2016 | Big Pond Rumours | 24 pages
review by Bianca Lakoseljac

Brian Purdy’s Black Ink: Portraits is an eclectic collection of whimsical poems, each composition a moment in life.

The poem “Goddess Sculpture, Greek, circa 540 BC” is a stirring contemplation of the liaison between the artist and the woman who inspired his creation. “Gun Fired in the Discharge of Duty” is a raw and honest reflection on the aftermath of a police shooting—a timely and complex issue—where all are victims, and only the degrees vary. “For Layman” reads as a tribute to his father, a meditation on the human frailties and strengths, and the power of inspiration—a gritty, yet tender eulogy.

Just about every one of Purdy’s poems touches on grief and the void left in its echo. But what is the void? Throughout the poems, the reader is led to face the devastation of loss—loss of youth, of inspiration, of love, of life. At times the loss morphs into the search for meaning of one’s own dream world and the metaphors it leaves in its wake, as witnessed in the poem, “Dream Fragment—The Brujo.”

Our inability to settle on a single definition of any of the poem’s voids is precisely the point. The void is a labyrinth we are not meant to evade nor resolve. We are meant to journey through it, contemplate it, caress it, and not squirm away from it. We are meant to emerge from it shaken out of convention and expectation—to emerge transformed not as a way of solving life’s riddle but as a way of braving it. At this point, if we seem confused, we should not be. Purdy points a path through everyday chaos, for there is always a reason to celebrate life. Or a work of art. Or a moment of transcendence.

The only drawback to Purdy’s chapbook is that it ends too soon—but not before it succeeds in drawing the reader in. I am certain Purdy’s fans will be longing for a new book.

Brian Purdy’s poems offer evocations of everyday life in a language at once visual and intense and compassionate. They present an intriguing paradox: A Greek goddess sculpture is likely to appear as is a ghost of Billy the Kid. And it is these imaginative restitutions of life in their complex and varied forms that render Brian Purdy’s poems compelling, and endlessly satisfying.

Bianca Lakoseljac is a Toronto poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her latest book, Stone Woman, a novel set in Toronto, is to be released in the fall 2016, by Guernica Editions.