Book Review: “river woman” by Katherena Vermette

Happy June, everyone!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful May and that this month will be just as good or even better!

Cover of "river woman" by Katherena Vermette.
Cover of “river woman” by Katherena Vermette.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing the poetry collection “river woman” by Katherena Vermette!

Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Award-winning Métis poet and novelist Katherena Vermette’s second book of poetry, river woman, examines and celebrates love as decolonial action. Here love is defined as a force of reclamation and repair in times of trauma, and trauma is understood to exist within all times. The poems are grounded in what feels like an eternal present, documenting moments of clarity that lift the speaker (and reader) out of the illusion of linear experience. This is what we mean when we describe a work of art as being timeless.

Like the river they speak to, these poems return again and again to the same source in search of new ways to reconstruct what has been lost. Vermette suggests that it’s through language and the body ― particularly through language as it lives inside the body ― that a fragmented self might resurface as once again whole. This idea of breaking apart and coming back together is woven throughout the collection as the speaker contemplates the ongoing negotiation between the city, the land, and the water, and as she finds herself falling into trust with the ones she loves.”

Content Warning:

Some of the poems in this collection discuss the treatment of Indigenous peoples both in the past and currently in the present. If you are sensitive to such content, read carefully.

Overall Thoughts:

I enjoyed the imagery of most of the poems. My favourite poems demonstrating this imagery were “riverdawn” and “riverevening.” Some poems in the latter half of this collection explored Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, particularly the Métis (the author herself is Métis). This exploration made the latter half of the collection stronger than the first half overall.

However, many of the poems lacked any meter and/or rhyme. All of these poems are in free verse and do not follow a set meter or rhyme, which is fine. However, the consistent lack of meter and/or rhyme made some of the poems lack lyricism, which clashed with the imagery. This was especially the case with the poems that had emphasis on rivers in their themes.

Another element I disliked was the lack of punctuation in almost every poem. It made many of the poems feel like incomplete, run-on sentences with some enjambment thrown in. The titular poem, “river woman,” is a big example of lacking punctuation. I enjoyed reading its imagery, as well as its use of repetition. However, the lack of punctuation made the entire poem feel like a long, never-ending run-on sentence.

Overall, I’m rating this collection 3 out of 5 stars!

Those interested in reading poetry akin to Rupi Kaur’s style of lacking punctuation might enjoy reading this collection.

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