To Find Oneself With a Poet: A Brief Review of Andre Narbonne’s You Were Here

YouWereHereYou Were Here
Andre Narbonne
72 pages
Flat Singles Press (2017)

It is often said that poetry done right is one part memory, one part experience. Narbonne’s debut collection of poetry affords us this type of poetry, straddling the lines of a shared world and the very internal emotional way one experiences that world. This collection unfolds from the premise offered in its title, You Were Here.  These profoundly personal pieces explore the pathways that a life takes from childhood to adulthood and the moments that fill that journey. While you could say that place always matters in work, and it often does here, whether it be Mountain Road, Wasaga Beach, or the Detroit River, these are physical spaces that are explored primarily though the poetic self. The moments and events revealed in their lines and images leave the reader with sense of living in that moment, feeling what the poet had, traveling the line of memory that places you in the world. The places in this collection while they may carry names we recognize are strongly those of Narbonne’s. He builds a world and shares it.

The primacy of placing the person in the image is laid out clear in the poem “At Kakabeka Falls” as after a vivid mediation on the physicality of the space before him “the road curled into hills blasted into shape,/scored Precambrian walls, open roofs, pulling the horizon close.” we hear the mother call out “It’s not a picture without someone in it.” And so it is with these poems that we not only see the world that carries Narbonne’s poetic lens, but we feel it too. The need to hurry home before a lightning storm opens up the day, the act of losing oneself in the middle of a question by a stranger on riverfront path, or the smell of lilac that cordoned off a childhood home from the outside world, all of these are profoundly personal moments that the reader, too, experiences.  The mean only so much as they mean to the poet. It is proximity that affords the best of this collection. We are never alone in the world we come to know in You Were Here.

This is because the poet draws us in close, let’s us feel what he feels, holds our hand, wraps it around our shoulder. As Narbonne brings us closer to his world, he draws us into the manner he feels and sees his daughter’s artwork. “My daughter’s scribbles are the tectonics of a new work/pushing coastal mountains/onto my wall” We not only see the world in which those mountains exist, but feel them rise, sense that our world is shaken by the simplicity of the moment, the sheer importance of witnessing what we have just witnessed. We not only see the drawing, but we feel it too. We know both its form and the sentiment it leaves us with. The poetic world of Narbonne is a gift he offers the reader in totality. You will know the places his senses have touched, feel the manner in which those places and people have shaped those senses, and you will feel as though you too know the speaker of these pieces not in the physical sense, but also in the way the person must appear in the photo. This is a strong debut for Narbonne, leaves us hopeful to return his world, share all that must follow the final image and memory of the book.

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