• James Armstrong

Award winning Saint-Lazare poet publishes fifth book of poetry


Catherine Chandler’s latest offering of poetry embodies a retrospective of her childhood memories laced with the reality of the present.​

Saint-Lazare poet and resident Catherine Chandler recently published a fifth book of poems, Pointing Home, she describes as a retrospective journey through her childhood.

“It all began with four poems, then 25,” she told The Journal in an interview on Tuesday, May 21. The final tally for the edition was 60 poems including a series of 10 poems written by Uruguayan women that Chandler translated into English.

Her own poems grew out of remembered events about the mining town in Pennsylvania where she spent her childhood evoking snapshots of post-World War II American working class society growing into the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. Chandler has learned her craft well and polished her technique, and the result is a collection of poems that pack an emotional and visceral punch for the reader who engages with them.

Chandler uses images such as Sputnik that will resonate with the Baby Boomer generation illustrating her point with the voice of a young boy staring up at a starry October sky in 1957. The poem’s closing lines allude to the trajectory of the lad’s life that, in turn, echoes in the reader’s imagination. “These poems give a flavour of what it was like to be a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Chandler.

America’s tragic love affair with firearms doesn’t escape Chandler’s attention. In ‘Nines’ Chandlers threads the names of children, the victims of mass shootings that began with Columbine continued with Sandy Hook and West Nickel Mines through a stark description of the violence. The title references the popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet, the ammunition used in the massacres.

Chandler prefaces the poem with a quote from American journalist Dave Barry, “The metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.” In the end notes, Chandler points out the poem was written before the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Closer to home, Chandler describes her move to Saint-Lazare in 2004 and her affinity for the forest in her newly acquired backyard. It is a relevant statement to current civic debate from the opening lines, “…where the Ville de Saint-Lazare protects its woods and wetlands with an environmental by-law bible thicker than the girth of any oak or sugar maple sapling one may wish to cut without a permit from a stern and rigorous inspector,” to the final cut of the closing stanza.

The title of the collection is also the title of the final poem of the book excluding the one on the cover. At the beginning of the poem, Pointing Home, Chandler references poet Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River, “All things on earth point home in old October” reminding the reader that home is a remembered concept from the past. “Home is there and also where you are and live now,” she said. The poetic image of home also points to a final homecoming.

Chandler was the winner of the 2015- 2016 Richard Wilbur Book Award for her book of poems titled The Frangible Hour. She doesn’t know if her more recent work, Pointing Home, will be submitted for any other poetry contest. “That’s up to the publisher,” she said with a chuckle.

Pointing Home is available on Amazon.ca or from the publisher, Kelsay Books at kelsaybooks.com/products/pointing-home.