Nimble. Prairie. Celebrations. Sarah Ens’s The World is Mostly Sky
Sarah Ens bursts onto the Canadian poetry scene with her debut collection, The World is Mostly Sky, published by Turnstone Press and launched via Zoom on May 7th. Refreshingly stark yet melodic, we shamelessly stole our first keyword “nimble” from Jeanette Lynes’s description of this collection during its launch. We hope you support Sarah by purchasing her book from your local bookstore or directly through the publisher’s website!
Ens’s collection is in three parts that thematically move from nostalgic recollections of home to the difficulties of living in and navigating the contemporary Western world, and into the importance of women’s friendships and solidarity. But the poems contained here are nimble for more than their ability to weave through these themes. On a structural note, they range from standard lyrical poetry (if there is such a thing as a standard) to prose poems to extended poems to poems that play with spacing, voice, or quotations from other works.
The piece that perhaps best demonstrates Ens’s poetic prowess is “Floriculture,” where two poems braid themselves together to form the impression of three poems in one (it reads as a poem regardless of if you read it through, or as only parentheticals, or only non-parentheticals). Just take a look for yourself at the opening of the first stanza:
“My mother (spent summers kneeling) Took pride in my muddy crunching, (between carrots/potatoes/beans/ radishes/raspberries/peas) my reaching To the earth. I do love”
This form continues on with the lines and voices alternating, each giving more form and context to the other, but also sufficiently stable on their own.
As with the quoted poem above, Ens’s book spends a lot of time in the earth, particularly in her Manitoban hometown, where she contrasts her childhood and adolescent memories with the reality of new condos appearing on the once flat land. While some poems demonstrate the speaker’s sadness at the loss of silos and the changing skyline, they do not dwell in sadness, preferring to merely relay the changes while tying the speaker’s disappointment to that more general sense of leaving one’s childhood firmly behind. This documentation of change and loss follows in the tradition of other prairie writers, such as Robert Kroetsch, Dennis Cooley, and Barbara Langhorst, putting Sarah Ens in good company.
While writing about altered landscapes and lost places sounds dreary, Ens makes it anything but. Instead, she focuses her energies on celebrating the experiences the speaker had in those places, and the potential for something new to bloom. This is most evident in the final section of the book, “Powerful Millenials on the California Freeway,” whose title really captures the essence of the poems therein. Here Ens focuses on relationships between people, the way they grow up together and also grow together. The poems seem to realise that though a place has changed, and is in some ways unrecognisable, so too have the people who did (or still do) inhabit it.
Ens celebrates both people and prairie, complicated as each are, through her nimble pen and apt understanding of just what each poem needs.