Review: The Lost Time Accidents by Síle Englert

17
November, 2021
Allison Zhao, Blog Correspondent
Allison Zhao is an aspiring author currently studying at the University of Toronto. She haunts bookstores across the city and is forever on the lookout for beautiful moments.

Amelia Earhart’s bones are calling out from the dark drawer they’ve been left in. Two satellites are whispering to each other in between stars. You are tired. You want to go home1. And it seems that home is the dust you were made from. All this and more exists in Síle Englert’s new poetry collection The Lost Time Accidents, released in early October. She moves fluidly through time and space, and throughout the collection, her voice is marked by mourning for the parts of the world that are overlooked and things that are left behind.

The Lost Time Accidents is broken into three parts, and while each is distinct in its themes, Englert’s whimsy characterizes the collection as a whole. She has a knack for taking objects that are mundane or exist only vaguely in our consciousness, and deftly turning a unique lens on them; in Part I, the human body is envisioned as a Rube Goldberg machine, with all its chain reactions and “dominoes through every muscle and joint.” She balances the familiar and the uncertain carefully; everything is recognizable, but the presentation is new.

This repurposing is also found in Part I’s four-part requiem for various childhood toys, which have been stolen, worn out, and in the case of a toy soldier, aggressively transformed in an act of “toy taxidermy.” Part I tends to focus on the body and the progress of an individual life, from childhood to adulthood, and in doing so offers an intriguing exploration and reimagining of the self – including the speaker describing themselves as a garbage disposal at one point – that serves as a foundation for the rest of the collection.

Part II turns its gaze outwards, and brings in a swathe of historical figures and events. One of the most powerful poems of this section is “Unearthing,” in which “Amelia Earhart’s bones are watching the future.” Earhart, and this poem itself, are a striking representation of that which is lost and waits to be found; Englert handles the aviator’s bones with poignant sympathy and grief. (In real life, the search for Earhart’s remains is a saga on its own, and no bones have been conclusively determined as hers).

“In a summer that never happened, a volcano invented the bicycle” is the charmingly bizarre first line in “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” positioned after an epigraph from Lord Byron. This poem is sprawling in its scope, connecting Mary Shelley, William Turner’s sunset paintings, and the Mormon Church. Occasionally Englert’s poems will seem ungrounded, and a little too obscure – Nikola Tesla, the Voyager 1 satellite, Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, the girl who might have inspired Alice in Wonderland, and the “last elephant in Berlin” and more make appearances in Part II – but upon pressing a little deeper into figuring out the names and references Englert makes, the pieces fit together into fascinating works which demonstrate Englert’s poetic skill, wide-ranging knowledge, and above all, her deep empathy. The Berlin elephant, known as Siam, was the only one of seven to have survived the bombardments during the Second World War, and Englert successfully brings his perspective and trauma to life for readers.

Finally, Part III is a return to earth from Part II’s voyages across history and into interstellar space. Englert’s focus changes to the natural environment that humanity finds itself in, connecting the scattered emotional experiences of the first two parts in a world that ultimately reclaims us. Once more she takes her reader to find curiosities and hidden places when telling of a plant whose flowers are known for turning translucent in the rain, and of hunger stones emerging with dire warnings from riverbeds. In writing, “What you mean is that / your dust will crawl, swim and fly. In your untrodden bed, you are / remembering a distant Wednesday when you were whole,” and speculating on a house being excavated “in a few million years or so,” Englert is willing to confront the inevitability of death and decomposition of the physical body, and yet she still imagines a future in which the traces of a person never truly disappear. Ultimately, perhaps there is a bit of hope for the forgotten and the abandoned, even when the despair for our future as a species seems overwhelming – as Englert writes, “this will make a terrible bedtime story, someday.” Her collection is a journey in many different registers, and her elegance and her nuanced, vulnerable vision make it a truly moving book.

Englert is a Canadian writer and artist, who has previously published two chapbooks. Acta Victoriana received a copy of The Lost Time Accidents from Goose Lane Editions for review.

 

[1] Quoted from “Post-Humus” from The Lost Time Accidents.

Amelia Earhart’s bones are calling out from the dark drawer they’ve been left in. Two satellites are whispering to each other in between stars. You are tired. You want to go home. And it seems that home is the dust you were made from.

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