Dark Water Songs
poems by Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes

Print: 978-1-92670-894-2
ePUB: 978-1-92670-895-9
PDF: 978-1-77133-045-9

104 Pages
April 01, 2013
New Poetry All Titles


Dark Water Songs poems by Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes

The poems in Dark Water Songs begin on the margins of islands and ancestors, and fan out, probing love, loss and life's dilemmas. They expand and deepen the poetic exploration which began with my earlier collections, mining the reciprocal spaces enabled by the hyphen between Jamaican and Canadian, exploring silences, the weight of memory, and a sense of the sacred. The collection contributes to the body of work by contemporary Canadian writers of Caribbean origin. The perspective is that of a poet/educator and former nun ― a writer who negotiates the world through the lens of islands and continents, landscapes and seas.

Dark Water Songs

Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes is a Jamaican-Canadian poet/educator and former nun. A 2009 Hawthornden Fellow, she has three collections of poetry: Dark Water Songs (2013) Inanna Publications; Travelling Light (2006) long-listed for the 2007 ReLit Poetry Award, and The Fires of Naming (2001), Seraphim Editions. Her publications include poetry and essays in Poetry Wales; Canadian Woman Studies; Poetic Inquiry II: Seeing Caring, Understanding (Sense Publishers, 2016); The Art of Poetic Inquiry (Backalong Books, 2012); Jamaica in the Canadian Experience, (Fernwood, 2012); Jubilation! (Peepal Tree Press, 2012); and the Poet to Poet anthology (Guernica Editions, 2012). She is currently working on her fourth collection of poetry.

Review: Dark Water Songs by Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes
Room Magazine - November 2014
reviewed by Emily Milliken

The poems in Dark Water Songs touch on the political, the natural, the concrete, and the abstract. From the streets of Toronto to tropical islands, “From Perth to Edinburgh by Rail” (21) Soutar-Hynes takes us through urban and rural landscapes following the “crimson certainty” (61) of her heart’s inclinations.

The collection is divided into four sections: “In the Manner of Tides,” “Close to Home,” “Slippery,” and “Other Gravities.” Not surprisingly, water—the sea, the tides, the river, the lake—figures prominently in the work, as does the stuff of water—islands, salt, sand, and lighthouses. This theme runs so strongly through the first two sections that even a poem like “Implicated” (16), which makes no mention of water and is political in tone, brought to mind an aging leader of a small island nation.

This theme loses strength by the sections “Slippery” and “Other Gravities.” Sailboats and anchors still pop up, but as a reader, I was becoming more aware of and more interested in the glimpses of the poet’s life seen almost as “clusters of intimacy” (75) in the poems.

Narratives are partially told but mostly obscured. “Discernment” (73) is one example, where Soutar-Hynes uses landing a plane in fog as a metaphor for perspective. Near the end of the piece, a third person appears in parenthesis: “Beautiful, she said of your heart’s / steady beat: I saved you / a picture.” This dialogue changes the “pockets of turbulence preferable to disaster” earlier in the poem to a comment on this relationship. But that’s all we really get of it.

“The Weight of Storms” (40) beautifully depicts the frozen existence of deep winter in Ontario: “No birds at the feeder / no squirrels foraging / through lilacs frozen antlers.” The poet uses this environment as a metaphor for the tone set by argument between intimates. “We play our separate / hands from separate rooms—/ lost solitudes—awaiting ploughs / to pry us free.” These snippets appear throughout the book, scattered between abstract meditations like “Perhaps” (52) and observations of the natural and constructed world.

Soutar-Hynes’s use of space, line-breaks, and stanza breaks lends many poems in the collection not only the poet’s voice—I can hear her pauses, hear how she would likely read aloud—but a concrete quality. I truly hope that the island-like shapes formed by poems like “Along Rosedale Valley Road” (56) depict archipelagos found in some old atlas.

As I read Dark Water Songs, I was increasingly aware of the poet’s consciousness, or the “brisk salt of / [her] waking thought” (31) and the effect left me curious about her, her work, and her life.


"Dark Water Songs is a startlingly good new collection. The overall sense is one of colour, landscape and texture; of the nuances of nature and man’s emotion as something echoing and fleeting, blundering, humanly aching to be one but made clumsy by the mind, by knowledge, by the self-consciousness that condemns us to recognize beauty and synchronicity without ever being able to be more than an uncomfortable part of it all. It is that humanness of difference that makes this collection a wonder."
—Rachel Manley, author of Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers and Horses in Her Hair: A Granddaughter’s Story

"Soutar-Hynes’s  poems are sensuously expressive and conceptual all at once. The texts are shaped like sculptures: with indents and caesuras creating “negative space” and added visual rhythm — layouts consonant with her often vividly pictorial imagery. Underpinning these aesthetic qualities is the sensibility of one who is widely read, intellectually sophisticated, and tuned in to contemporary ideas. Another distinctive Soutar-Hynes attribute is her ability to convey a sense of place, whether close to home, recalled from early life, or travelled to over the oceans. Such local, regional and global scope makes her a post-national as well as a multicultural and postmodernist writer of real distinction."
—Allan Briesmaster,  author of Confluences and Against the Flight of Spring

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