Austere does not necessarily imply cool or aloof, but rather a refined sensibility for the elementary, the unadorned, to see more in less, to perceive truths with clarity. While prior works have been clean, almost scientific, Minsk, while exuding the chill of winter, is nevertheless a vehicle for fantasy, a dreamscape of an imagined land.
In a thoughtful forward, Edward Hirsh discusses the direction of Greenlaw's poetry, her fascination with issues of time and space, but with secret electricity, a current of morality. He states that Greenlaw is a winter writer and her icy landscapes explore questions of place.
Looking back, the past is examined, the bright promise of youth:
"Did we not remember the curse of this place?
How Sundays drank our blood as we watched
dry paint or the dust on the television screen." (Zombies)
Intoxicated by the newness of the world, it is possible to believe in beginnings and ignore reality:
"How people died bursting out of a quiet life,
or from being written into a small world's stories." (Ibid.)
The poet's impressions allow us to reflect, to root around in memories sparked by a phrase, an image. Like art, good poetry is visual and Greenlaw's deft touch challenges form, stating bluntly that this is poetry, these are the words meant to be, in columns or sideways, pulled from the past or fresh as this morning. History and myth loom large, images of a lifetime ago, when stories passed by word of mouth, in rhyme, in song. Complex and stunning, Greenlaw has stepped further out on the ice-encrusted pond, daring it to hold:
"They fold their robes, test each rung,
half-enter a pool pinched in three feet of ice.
Each swims a neat circle, wearing slippers and gloves." (Steam)
Minsk harkens the experience of untested territory, watching, measuring, feeling the cool fingers of winter, a creature walking the lands of myth:
"All the small bones of feet and hands.
What god is this we travel for hours,
getting no further than the tips of his fingers?" (Vaeroy)