Nora Drutz was a Toronto-based freelance writer.
Rhea Tregebov was born in Saskatchewan and grew up in Winnipeg. She attended graduate school at Cornell and Boston Universities, and received her MA. from Boston University in 1978. At present she lives in Toronto, where she is an editor of the feminist quarterly Fireweed. Some of the poems in Remembering History have previously appeared in various American and Canadian periodicals. This is her first published work.
It is fitting that Tregebov’s first work should be concerned with women. Here, she explores the theme of women throughout history as victims, both of men and, more subtly, of each other. The book is divided into two parts. In Part One, “Saint Jane,” the first poem (entitled “The Life of Saint Jane”) describes the progress of a woman from the purity of childhood, through adolescence, to the stark disillusionment of adulthood and the realization of herself as a victim. “...Jane wipes blood onto her apron, / offers coffee. / Her education got her nowhere.” The other poems in this section portray women as trapped, isolated, and always waiting. “The woman is tired of rooms. / Her finger traces maybe a decade / of privacy in the dust on the / window sill. / It is illegible. / …Even so / in this climate you don’t have / the outside and the inside. /There are double doors, /double frames to the windows /to seal the inside in.” Women are unable to break their bonds because of their conditioned passivity and inability to communicate. “I ask for recognition, /any name. Kind words are no reply. /An angel is too used to silence. /Choking on it, our fingers tighten.”
Part Two, “Witnesses,” continues the theme. Many of the poems in this section present portraits of women from various parts of the world. In “Tehran Afternoon” we see veiled women in stifling heat, waiting in the court yard, engaged in idle chatter. In “Women Are Not for Burning,” a young bride in India is burned to death by her mother- and sister-in-law because they are dissatisfied with the dowry. This suggests the theme that women can be the victims of each other. Tregebov provides us with no easy solution and sees no hope for change: “accepting earth /I come with no wings.”
I find the book fresh and interesting for the most part, although it does have its share of trite passages. It is saved from the banality of most feminist poetry by the strength and vigour of its language and its lack of whining self-pity. The direct, simple, and often ironic style gives it a sense of urgency. Tregebov has a feel for the subtleties of patterns of light, “rectangles /placid on floor and windows,” and for concrete details; she can evoke the city with its sounds and smells, noises of streetcars, rattling of windows, smell of exhaust. I look forward to reading more works by this young poet.