Sensorial: A Poetry Collection


by Carolyne Van Der Meer

Print: 978-1-77133-890-5
100 Pages
May 31, 2022

Sensorial is a journey in sensory perception. The senses guide us through urban landscapes, animal connections and familial bonds as we consider who we are, where we are—both physically and metaphysically—and what truly matters. Sensorial proposes one set of responses to the never-ending data we process as we navigate through life. In particular, it considers aging and illness on the journey towards life’s end—and examines gain and loss in the aggregate.

“Some things you just can’t know”—so begins Sensorial, a three-part meditation on our role as both spectator and participant in a world of inequity and injustice. Each poem is a finely wrought tableau where “sensations galvanize” and absolutes have no part. At the heart of the collection is a daughter’s complicated relationship with her father and the myriad prisms of that relationship. Tackling a wide range of personal and social themes from loneliness to homelessness to disease and death and the “fault lines[s]” of marriage, Van Der Meer combines a keen narrative sense and an eye for imagery to produce a fine collection infused with compassion and hope.”
—Carolyn Marie Souaid, author of The Eleventh Hour and Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik

“Among the best poets writing in Canada today, Carolyne Van Der Meer shares the genius of Margaret Avison in bringing together the spiritual and the mundane, sometimes in startling juxtaposition. Her technical dexterity is unequalled, as she ranges from writing so terse the words sting, to writing so flowing they sing. Lines often break in the middle without notice, in a kind of subversive caesura. Form follows function; less is invariably more. In “Pantoum for the Homeless,” she turns a rigid archaic verse form into a fluid and intimate account of a life gone pathetically wrong. Sharing details of a menu in Montreal, thoughts while eating pizza on the Champs Élysées, she hovers between the particular and the universal, sharing uneasy familiarity with both. Thoroughly cosmopolitan, she evokes in a few words a story behind tea at Harrods more haunting than the touching story we’re told. Sometimes unnervingly personal she shares with searing directness an unspoken dialogue at her father’s deathbed that rivals Dorothy Livesay’s last words to her own father, Irving Layton’s to his mother. Sensorial arouses the senses, but also, evoking the title’s homophone, it is censorial, confident in exposing the ambiguities of moral judgment. Each poem stands on its own, yet each speaks to the others. Seldom has a collection of diverse poems conveyed such a remarkably unified sensibility. Carolyne Van Der Meer is in her prime, and long may she be so.”
—John Moss, author of The Invisible Labyrinth and other books.

Sensorial is a finely-wrought odyssey of grief, memory, and experience that takes the reader from a mythical Atlantis to North and South America and throughout Europe, igniting our manifold senses with the “ritualistic seduction” of saltimbocca, Chianti, gelato, and fine perfume. Whether in Catholic Belfast, Italy, Barcelona, Paris, or Manhattan, Van Der Meer’s eye for observational detail is exquisite, as is her heightened awareness of the forgotten and exiled among us, particularly in touristic cultures. What constitutes a “foreigner” in a globalized landscape, and how does grief make one a foreigner in one’s own country? Artfully navigating between “age-old wars,” the fine arts, and religious observance, Van Der Meer locates tenderness in unexpected places (rescue from peril by a stranger on a bus in Mexico, a gift of oxblood boots, shampooing her mother’s hair while listening to Bach), and chronicles with wry wisdom born of love and loss the “generosity and cruelty to be discovered in all.” Yet, with characteristic grace, she offers us a heart made light and “leavened by the host,” transported from the timeworn paths of personal and world history to a dazzling beyond, “preparing me/ for what I’ve never known.”
—Virginia Konchan, author of Any God Will Do and The End of Spectacle

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Sensorial: A Poetry Collection

Carolyne Van Der Meer is a journalist, public relations professional and university lecturer who has published articles, essays, short stories and poems internationally. Her first book, Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience, was published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press in 2014, and her second book, a collection of poetry entitled Journeywoman, was published in 2017. A third book, for which she translated her own poems into French, Heart of Goodness: The Life of Marguerite Bourgeoys in 30 Poems | Du coeur à l’âme : La vie de Marguerite Bourgeoys en 30 poèmes, was published by Guernica in 2020. Sensorial is her third full-length poetry collection. Carolyne lives in Montreal, Quebec.

Underground Art, Place Bonaventure Station

He sits awkwardly on a dirty blanket
in the subway corridor
ripped jeans knees
tucked beneath him
in a way that must ache
This is not the first time I see him
singing acapella
a voice that scratches and hurts
missing some range and depth
only pennies in
his cardboard box
One day
I hear him speak
the rasp gone a softness
and the voice of a preacher
I hear the word “Dieux”
wonder how he came to be here
not on a pulpit
God’s will he should be homeless
seeking shelter
trying to make a living
on a song

At Van Speyk, Amsterdam

I feel the full-bodied Amarone
coat my palate
surrounded by family
despite our parents’ recent passing

hear the chatter of our children
getting reacquainted
at the next table
am leavened by their laughter

Then I see her a woman in her forties
seated with a man her age and a teenage girl
watching us as she sips red wine
eyes glittering I think with tears

I can’t help checking on her
as I realize the three of them utter not one word

A contrast that seems unjust
They eat in silence pick at their food
that too unjust this cuisine merits more

And when she gets up to go to the ladies’
I am riveted she is striking in her loneliness
a sadness she wears like clothes
I drop my fork it clatters on fine bone china

excuse myself follow her to the restroom
where she leans over the porcelain sink
examining herself too closely in the mirror
as oversized tears fall her face glistening

I have made a mistake, I shouldn’t
have come in here—but I want to hold this blonde
woman stroke her hair tell her I know grief

only time her best friend now
She catches tears with a tissue stands back
fixes her stiff shirt collar glides pink lipstick over her mouth
sighs—there she says and smiles at me&151;

a little forced but she does it turns to leave
Now the annual family gathering at Van Speyk
includes the woman a fading image
Each time I wonder how she’s doing

if she’s still patting down her collar
saying there

Angels We Have Heard on High

Evening flight home gossamer clouds out the window
she remembers long ago exploring her mother’s underwear drawer on the
hunt for coral lipstick Chanel No5 decanters silk stockings with clips

These possessions titillated flirted with her desire for adulthood—
remembers feeling under the stack of girdles
her fingers appreciating the double French seams—and there it was

a black-and-white photo, a winged angel perceptible in celestial haze
sabotaging all notions of any sexual awakening>br>when she might reach the moment when body became temple—

opaline feet barely touching the overlapping wisdom of cloud cover
the Holy Father’s stone steps to heaven—as if scorched by a match
she shoved it back under the girdles wondered at her mother’s
blinkered beliefs
the faucet of her sex staved off as she shut the drawer

all coming to her as she pulls down the cabin blind on her flight home

Parkinson’s Disease

She was never really close to him. He was the one
who disrupted the harmony
with loud silences, deliberate and calculating,
designed to simultaneously elicit fear and guilt,

his unsolicited curses and verbal lacerations fuelling
an altered view of her younger self. Now,
all these years later, his temperament castrated
by disease, she finds
her anger dissipated, disappeared.

The energy she spends is focused
on reaching him across
a divide of drug-induced
hallucinations, the onset of dementia,
the lockdown of the locked-in,
self-imposed truth-and-reconciliation time

now that the disease is kicking him in the ass.
She sees him as littered with Lewy bodies,
a man filled to overflow with sugary gelatin fibrils
multi-coloured jellybean halos she just can’t sort.

When she tries to reach him,
remembering their one real conversation
on a country drive about her parents’ car wreck of a marriage,
the transmitters just don’t fire, all industry
invested in dopamine production, a hollow

look in those
glassy blue eyes, telling her she isn’t
getting in, and that this time,
it has nothing at all to do with her.

Johnny Cash, Ottawa Ex, 1979

He just wanted to listen
be alone in the rhythm
the lyrics
I was eleven and bored
the only song I recognized was
“Ring of Fire”
years later
I find the setlist
on the internet
after my own
love affair with Cash
is well established
feel “I Walk the Line”
“A Boy Named Sue”
“Folsom Prison Blues”
imagining my father
in his Parkinson’s prison
wanting a moment
to lose himself
in the music
forget his choices
good and bad

and dream

2 reviews for Sensorial: A Poetry Collection

  1. Inanna Admin

    A review of Carolyne Van Der Meer’s Sensorial
    reviewed by Michael Farry
    Live Encounters Book Reviews – July/August 2022

    Excerpt (full review at the link above):

    The collection is a celebration of humanity in all its brokenness, in which the “I”, the poet shares, recognising her own faults and imperfections.

  2. Inanna Admin

    Sensorial by Carolyne Van Der Meer
    reviewed by The Minerva Reader – August 8, 2022

    Sensorial is a lyrical and poignant love story to life. I can imagine the poet reading in a smoke-filled café while Leonard Cohen strums an accompaniment in the background.

    ‘Sensorial. Adjective. Of or relating to sensation or the senses: sensational, sensitive, sensory, sensual, sensuous.’

    This collection is all that and more, stimulating memories of childhood, guiding your palette to savour exquisite delights that in reality, are not yet experienced by the reader but feel completely vivid. Familial bonds are traced through the years, a treasure trove of precious memories, folded in tissue paper and a delight to unwrap and hold aloft. The complexity and sadness of aging parents is deftly and beautifully highlighted.

    Imagine being homeless, imagine yourself “in the jaws of a tiger to stave off the daily trudge”, imagine tea at Harrods or a wharf in Brockville. But don’t just imagine, read Sensorial.

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