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Pannell will read from latest book Feb. 2 in Cobourg

The latest book from Chris Pannell is Love, Despite the Ache.

The latest book from Chris Pannell is Love, Despite the Ache.

“A lost hunter looks back to see his steps fill with falling snow.”

Chris Pannell articulates that situation in his book Love, Despite the Ache.

There is only one way: forward. At times, we all must face this hunter’s situation.

Wolsak and Wynn, the publisher of this new collection of poetry, describes it as capturing “the sharp pain and complicated love that accompanies his parents’ approaching deaths, and then examines, with gentleness and humour, the passage of grief and slow resumption of life that occurs once they are gone.”

The poems are a finely balanced dialogue between empathy and detachment. Death is shockingly extraordinary, yet banal, common. Although everyone is born with a life sentence, the endings are as variable as punctuation marks. Will the end come in exclamation points or question marks or the long agony of the ellipsis? As Pannell puts it in the poem Horror Story, “The old have become one with machinery, with their metal bones, plastic hips. When they go out to doctor appointments, their replacement parts are such a big production.”

Pannell explores the spaces of family despair and grief. The poetry is compelling and tender, yet unflinching as he describes how “Impatient cancer cells have infiltrated / my father the way sand / attacks the bend in an hourglass, / the grains pile up, blocking each other / in a rush to get through.”

We are given despair in imagined conversation between his parents, as one contracts a disease, experiences remission, then again. At the end of the poem, Love, Despite the Ache, whose title is taken as the name of the book, “Let me love your body now / before mine goes crazy again.”

Finality and continuity are the pas de deux of familial love and of our humanity. We that remain are witnesses to the same inevitableness in our own future, looking into the eyes of our children as we fall. Chris Pannell’s latest book is also a testament and tribute to the resilience of love. He has six previous books of poetry. It is fitting that Love, Despite the Ache is dedicated to his brothers and sister, living family members.

As the chapters closed on his father being moved in and out of six rooms in ten months, “after each move, a smaller room, more stuff left behind, he shrinks” and finally, “he has no means of staying or going / from this room or this Earth. / If I ask a question, he opens an eye, mutters / something like, ‘could do’ or ‘that’s a good idea’ / but there’s no father in it; just the echo / of a man who cared about everything.”

Pannell will give a reading from Love, Despite the Ache on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at The Human Bean in Cobourg. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

– Review by Wally Keeler