No Ordinary Place by Pamela Porter

Stevie Howell review of No Ordinary Place

Reviewed for Quill and Quire
Published online and in print April 2012

Pamela Porter’s fourth book of poetry has focus and form that results from her maturity as an artist; the poet’s confident voice and finely crafted stanzas command the reader’s attention as much as her subject matter. Porter writes with great authority about what could, in lesser hands, emerge as unremarkably quotidian subjects: leaves and branches, the weather, cats. The poet knows her voice is unique: “It’s like I told you, sometimes I live / not wholly in this world: / you know, a person can slip through / the sheer fabric / of what you think life is made of.”

Porter’s poems move deftly between human order and the natural world, between the natural world and the spiritual world, and between the primeval and the afterlife. The “place” in the title is a land where animals and nature personify a range of human thoughts and emotions, where Porter finds solace in listening to “the gospel of the trees.” The book is full of little children wise beyond their years: “Child, speak your truth. / There is no night / that you were not first born into. / There is no sky / that is not already inside you.”

Some of the strongest pieces are about Porter’s father. “My Father’s Grief” announces a Sisyphean ambition: “I want to take away my father’s grief […] I want to capture the moth of his guilt / that has crawled inside his ear”. The poem weaves together many of the book’s motifs: lost innocence, responsibility, and the juxtaposition of the mundane and heroic that is the very essence of being alive.

Porter is a craftsperson first and foremost, and these poems lean toward the traditional. There are no “found” poems here, no jarring line breaks, no experimental exercises. The author’s restraint, combined with her sincerity, is refreshing – and not nearly common enough.