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Review of Sonia Di Placido’s EXALTATION IN CADMIUM RED by John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of the City of Brantford

Exaltation in Cadmium Red by Sonia Di Placido, ISBN 978-1-55071-618-4, Guernica, 2012, 58 pp.  $15.

Review by John B. Lee  Poet Laureate of the City of Brantford in perpetuity, Poet Laureate of Norfolk County (2010-2014).
Published in VERSE AFIRE

If you wish to imagine the colour from which the cover stock takes its hue and from which Italian-Canadian poet Sonia Di Placido frames the title of her book Exaltation in Cadmium Red, and her nearly eponymous poem “Cadmium Red,” then you might simply conjure the incandescent vermillion crown of a northern cardinal cock. Cinnabar, a similar red, was popular in the wall murals of ancient Pompeii.  And these poems do not disappoint in the frequency with which they are inspired by the language, landscape, history, geography and mythology of Italy as it influences the sensibility of Di Placido.

In “Cadmium Red” she embraces the paradoxical heights and depths resulting from the exploration of great passion.  Reminding us of the toxic nature of cadmium as a pigment, her poem begins,

“I tried to share with you/ how to take apart the toxic words—/the red strokes that obliterate.”

Cadmium contains mercury and is highly poisonous.  The poem ends,

“What is most required when releasing/ the awe of cadmium romance.”

Interestingly, these concluding lines are instructive rather than interrogative.  The very next poem in the book makes reference to“Mussolini’s fascist charms.”  Elsewhere she writes beautifully of the doomed city of Pompeii,

“You write your skin over Pompeii/ narrow the focus of the stone remains/ that lift from embers, lava and ash.”

Our minds are haunted by the poignant universal images of human beings frozen in mid embrace as we read her visitor’s lament.  In the very title of the book with that single word “exaltation” we have a sense that this will not be a poet who feels things by half.  And I am not disappointed to report a confirmation that by reading these poems you will experience the perils and the darkness of deep feelings along with the exhilaration and delight.  Sonia’s persona has one foot in the old world, and two feet firmly in the new.  The reader happily joins the dance, taking instruction, “knowing/ how much pigment is too much…” trusting our guide though she assures me—“I am not here to listen, to tell you/ anything, only to accompany you/ through silence.”  These lines from the closing poem “Exaltation in the Key of Quiet,” seem to suggest—Be quiet and read. In an earlier poem she wrote,

“it was fun for a while—making bold red/splotches and strokes of desire.  … I begin to see/ the red tragedy reflected in your eyes.”

As for me, I add only this hush now, and read again.  There is pleasure in passion.  Dangerous pleasure.

Posted in Poetry, Reviews.