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Islands in the Shadow, by Mark Clement (Hidden Brook Press, 2008, $15.95, 63 pages). Reviewed by Elana Wolff

Mark Clement has a deft hand in all aspects of the creation of his first full collection of poems, Islands in the Shadow. He is the cover and layout designer, the photographer of the cover image- a still scene depicting a lighthouse on a jetty and waxing gibbous moon in a twilight sky- and author of the fifty-four poems that editor Allan Briesmaster aptly applauds as "seasoned... understated ... and "succinct" in his excellent and poetic preface to the collection.

Write what you know, goes the age-old advice to writers, and Mark Clement does just this. With tender and mature sensibility, he poeticizes his personal journey. The poems in Islands in the Shadow are ordered chronologically- beginning with recollections of the author's youth and emergence into the wider world, then shifting to depictions and musings on life, love, nature, and the art of poetry itself. What is inspiring in the best of these readerly pieces is the credible enactment of a soul that is both in the world and of it.

The opening poems cast back to a rural boyhood, and reveal an eye and ear fine-tuned to the sights, sounds, and seasons of a northern Ontario landscape. In "Warm Days," "...shrill cicada times, dreams unrefined... echoed in the black barn." In "Stars are not Black," "It had snowed all night... It was still and magical. / I was the first to venture here, the first to discover myself / a part of the season." The connection and blend between the outer and inner worlds is visceral and real for Mark Clement; nature is both the scene and vehicle of self-discovery- the sunny facets as well as the shaded. In "The Path," the poet as a boy takes the shortcut from home to school: "My feet are light upon the path... Every twist and turn / through the small sunlit forest / is my discovered road. The secrets hidden there / tremble in my heart as I blend / with the danger."

Trails, prints, paths, tracks, roads, trains, and rails recur, and by way of palpable particulars, rather than abstractions, the poems deepen into probing and disclosure. In "Leaving Home," "Dad hands me fifty dollars... and with a one-way ticket / I board the train to Kapuskasing... I carve / my new dreams into the dark mystery / of this northern landscape... certain as this train on unyielding steel rails." The author waxes first certain, then uncertain as to where his boots and rides and dreams will lead him. In "Retreat," "I hoist my pack and stretch / uncertain legs down the path... I face the sun so I cannot see / that fearful black, the left behind / back of me." The wonky perplexity of the young man stepping away from the familiar and into the unknown is captured with lyrical poignance, and the poems "Leaving Home" and "Trip to North Bay," especially, hold narrative nuggets that could well be developed into coming-of-age stories.

Islands in the Shadow contains several poems about the writing of poems and these are among the most rhetorical in the collection. In "On Being a Poet," the author asks: "Do poets master-mind the world, / meander as a stream, their words / pressing against the edge, finite / molecules, nudging the shoreline / into new shapes?" He seems to be attributing some supernatural power to the poet and/or poetic process- is it mere magic, or something bolder? A number of the poems are also written in rhyme; the most successful of these avoids the clinking of coppers on a saucer and achieves an elegant weave and cadence: "You see and cultivate / the interglacial places, / the fertile interwoven spaces / by others often missed / and left as grist / for love's fine grinding stone."

The title of the book is drawn from the poem "Evening Before Sleep": "Footprints follow dreams... city lights / blush brightly on and are islands in the shadows." This is a beautiful poem, flush with alliteration, soft imagery, onomatopoeia, and love. And it echoes two of my other favourites in the collections, "Songs of the Heart," with its resonant stanza, "From time to time, the pure heartwood of my youth / squeezes out a sweet odour, and its clear sap / sparkles and reflects nearby light;" also the final poem, "Still in Love," whose opening lines stand as a paean to beauty, goodness, and the natural order of things: "We paint those reliable tones / of earth and sky, dark and light, / with shadows placed where they belong./ The future song is spring and fall and all / expected seasons are in their proper place."

In reading the poems in Islands in the Shadow I am reminded of W.B.Yeats's remark, "We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us." The living correspondences between the inner and outer are vivid and continuous in Mark Clement's work, and through it we are shown a life of wonder, lustre, and naturalistic trust.