Winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry
In 2010, Catherine Owen’s 29-year-old spouse died of a drug addiction. A year later, she relocated to an apartment by the Fraser River in Vancouver, B.C. As she moved beyond the initial shock, the river became her focus: a natural, damaged space that both intensifies emotion and symbolizes healing. In a sequence of aubades, or dawn poems, Owen records the practice of walking by or watching the river every morning, a routine that helps her engage in the tough work of mourning. Riven (a word that echoes river and means rift) is an homage to both a man and an ecosystem threatened by the presence of toxins and neglect. Yet, it is also a song to the beauty of nature and memory, concluding in a tribute to Louise Cotnoir’s long poem The Islands with a piece on imagined rivers. While Designated Mourner honors grief, Riven focuses on modes of survival and transformation through looking outward, and beyond.
In the deeply intimate latest from Owen (Dear Ghost), she catalogues the time after her partner's death of an overdose and her move to an apartment by Vancouver's Fraser River. "This/ gorgeous, tormented river," with its pollution and its seasons, serves as subject, canvas and constantly shifting companion to the poet's grief. "When I think of the river/ I am not wholly never not thinking of you," Owen writes, as she records the activity on the water, where "slate boats yank salmon nets whose/ dark beads draw birds." Owen addresses many yous in her poems, one flowing into another as the addressee moves from her late spouse, to the river, to her current partner. Owen uses hyphens inventively, such as in "fish-tinsel," "vole-slickery," and "winter-sparse," as well as em dashes to create moments of hesitation. Broken into four parts, the collection features a series of aubades and ends with a long poem titled "The River System," after a piece by Quebecois poet Louise Cotnoir. In this final poem, Owen shifts away from the Fraser River to imagined tributaries: "the River of Ineffable Bloodline/ cannot really be looked at/ it is a wet thread in the duvet,/ a damp channel of reverie." Owen takes a single landscape and imbues it with the wrenching intricacy of grief, letting it move through her, letting it stay, but also letting happiness in to cohabitate.