80 pages
ISBN 0-88784-648-3
DDC C811'.6





Olga Costopoulos-Almon teaches English at the University of Alberta.


Karen Houle is a difficult but not obscurantist poet. She has a
background in philosophy and a deep interest in science. She scrutinizes
rocks, birds, insects, and electromagnetism to find metaphors for
expressing deep emotional states. In 1819, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was
asked why he attended so many lectures in chemistry, and he replied,
“to replenish my stock of metaphors.”

Houle has many available sources of metaphors in her imagination. In
“Jay” she speaks of “whatever we make up to make it real,” and
she is aware of the conscious fabulation which goes into telling the
truth. Her poems manage to deal with intricate states of feeling without
providing much biographical context. She explores desire, awareness of
mortality, and feminist issues through metaphor rather than through
anecdote. And she is quite happy to deploy abstractions in spite of the
usual advice (derived from Ezra Pound) to “go in fear” of them.
These are stylistically mature poems and it is not surprising that Houle
was shortlisted for the 2001 Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of
poetry published in Canada.


Houle, Karen., “Ballast,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,