Review by John B. Lee
Riddle Me This: Hypophora and the question as a device is the poetry of Susan Ioannou
For his part, People’s Poet Chris Faiers writes in praise of Susan Ioannou in his introduction to her book of poems Looking for Light, calling her one of Canada’s “best and wisest poets”. I have no quarrel with that description and there is much evidence within the covers of this particular volume to demonstrate what Faiers cites as “true poetry … beauty, knowledge, and song.”
In that her opening poem “Make it Beautiful” ends with the question: “What does it mean to honour the Muse?” and in that this opening poem contains nine questions, and in that I found myself noticing the frequency with which Ioannou employs the question mark in her poems, I found myself sufficiently intrigued to go on a question mark hunt. If I am correct in my count there are ninety-four question marks in forty-nine poems. There are twelve poems that do not contain a question. Interestingly, the closing poem, “The Choice” contains not a single question and it ends with something of a lovely and profound and lyrical declaration:
for underneath in-vain and must-not-do
is that catch-nail—love—
words hang themselves upon.
In his blurb on the back cover poet Ron Charach selects this line as one to highlight in his praise of this book.
Sometimes these questions are simply questions asked of herself, and the answers are left open ended. Sometimes these questions are metaphysical, sometimes rhetorical, sometimes as it is with hypophora, they are followed by an answer, and sometimes we are left to infer an ongoing mystery. She does not shy away from the big questions:
“Who would be God?”
“In simple things
do we touch God …”
“—how can a single Spirit
watch over it all?”
the black hole of death
reverse if God blinked?”
“How solid can our big world be
flickering in quantum space?”
In many of these poems she confronts the question of mortality and the mystery of individual incarnation.
“Is that how the last
moment will feel:
a distant tiny light,
She challenges science, that body of received knowledge—what we might call the latest best guess—and what we might remember is only one way of looking into the mystery. In her poem “God Particle,” she begins by stating, “I do not believe in the Higgs Boson,” and coming to a declaration of belief in the closing stanza:
I believe in the ancient sages’
music of the heavenly spheres
concentrating to a solid
in an immeasurable
slowing of motion.
Reading this book involves being invited on something of a journey, a quest for meaning. In the opening section of the book we travel to distant places, sometimes in the company of great poets like Shelley, revivified in landscape and architecture. In Beyond Knowing, section two of this collection, we are invited to question the meaning of existence, what Ioannou refers to as “—my uneasy wonder?” In Passing Seventy, part three, we look into the aging self and wonder “… is it / our own dreaming / undreaming we exist?” And the grail at the end of this romance might be language itself, as she writes in her coda, “…I have chosen words to be my light / and darkness too”. This journey is well worth taking. We pose these questions in service of deep need. And although we may not receive an answer, still we go looking for the light. And along the way we shine the light of language and see further into the darkness than might otherwise not be possible.
JOHN B. LEE is Poet Laureate of Brantford in perpetuity, Poet Laureate of Norfolk County for life.