A review of Stanley Park by Sapphira Olson

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Stanley Park
by Sapphira Olson
BLAM! Productions
Paperback, 110 pages, Aug 2019, ISBN-13: 978-1527247154<

Stanley Park by Sapphira Olson is a love story told through narrative poetry. This author has an extensive record of publications, her most recent book is Parables which received excellent reviews. The love story takes place in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, Canada. The author provides a map of this magnificent 400 hectares urban park where she has marked all the poems’ locations.

The poems in this book contain mythical elements, fantasy and reality, all elements blended and resulting in a fascinating story, for example in “The Women of Sagalie Tyee”:

A veil of blue silk hovers over The Narrows,
waiting to give birth.
The sky is an open canvass full of promise.
The waters are a dream:
a flow of promises and provision
in times of darkness.

The honour bestowed upon a girl child
is a gift of motherhood.
It is not war
that defines us,
but the love of a woman,
returning, like the salmon,
to the place of inception.

As I float upon the waters I am aware
of the sound of my mother,
and my own heartbeat.
I am vulnerable here,
my body prostrate,
in reverence to Sagalie Tyee.
I am thankful for the return of the salmon,
the rise of a paddle to signal a welcome
to my ancestor’s home.

Walking upon the water, the women of Sagalee Tyee,
so many of them, indeed to many to count,
gather around me and raise me up.
the spirit of Takehionwake moves out from the trees;
together we speak.

In the stillness of forever, my body begins to shake,
I am no longer within skin and bone.
Immortality comes in the sound of your name.
I swim with the salmon towards the land of legends,
where you can no longer be taken from me
by the white man,
who knows nothing of eternity.

Throughout the book there are many references to Sagalee Tyee, which means Creator God (Chief Above). For those who do not know early Christian missionaries learnt that in Canadian first nations there was no one god but many, so they utilised the native word for Chief Above to represent the Christian God.

A very interesting aspect of Stanley Park is a veiled spirituality with various metaphors about dying and rebirthing, as in the following two stanzas from: “A Deadly Poison To Your Lips”:

When the spirit showed you to me, I fell to my knees.
I saw that you loved the open places,
the water, and the clear light that comes
from being connected to everything.
And I knew that I had to die to all
that had known,
so I could grow beside you in
a perfect love that was true.

My rebirth was set in the immortal bard’s
prose full of hope and our love,
a love that would be free and not forgotten.
But the war in my soul caused such long delays
that I could not reach the spring light,
and I lay gasping for breath deep in the cold earth,
the soil filling my lungs ready for decay.

Olson’s words are sometimes gentle as rose petals like in the following stanza from “Breakfast at Ferguson Point” and sometimes sharp and hurt like a paper cut, like in ” If Ever A Woman Lost A Throne”, here are two samples of both:

GENTLE

Over coffee my thinking becomes visual,
and I paint pictures from my heart onto
your skin.

Outside the palm trees lean in.
On our table the aroma of cut flowers
mixes with your perfume.

SHARP

I have deep recurrent dreams in which you sacrifice
the bravest parts of you to protect me.
You place them in red cedar boxes
high up in trees.
The rain down on the greed of
the white man, before he strips the rock
bare.

We also read in Stanley Park romantic words which flower in a supernatural world where legends and mysticism envelop the reader.  Many of the poems can be said to be magic realist with some political overtones and First Nation’s Canadian mythology, like in “The Sea Serpent”, here is a fragment of this poem:

But whilst I slept,
you were taken to the North Shore
by a hideous sea serpent,
which legend said
lived in the black waters of The Narrows.

The sea serpent tried to darken your heart
with words that bound you to its evil dominion.
Hording you as if you were a treasure
that would bring great fortune, it instructed you
in the ways of the white man’s biblical patriarchy.
And every day you would rise
and beg the monster not to eat you.

There are in the collection two or three poems that do not fit in the collection that I feel lacked the freshness and neatness of the majority of the poems, but please do not let this minor issue prevent you from reading this beautiful collection of poetry.

Stanley Park has some very interesting drawings and a curious and quaint detail on the opposite page of each poem there is the picture of a woman and underneath the picture is the word ‘hope’ as you progress reading the word ‘hope’ appears larger and larger.

I like to say that Stanley Park kept me reading with enthusiasm and intrigue, not only because of the pristine imagery, the hint of mythology and fantasy, the veiled politics, the sad and happy remembrances, but also because I, being such a romantic, I wanted to know if the two women, like the cliché says: lived happy ever after. Stanley Park is a book about love a book to be loved.

About the Reviewer: Beatriz Copello is a Doctor of Creative Arts and majored in Writing.  She is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, she writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival. 

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