Book Review – Siren

Siren, Kateri Lanthier, Signal Editions, 2017

In Greek mythology, sirens are dangerous creatures that often use their enchanting voice, and song to lure in sailors. Generally, sirens are considered to be women but also, in different mythologies, part bird in association to their bewitching voices and figures. Sirens are beautiful and charming, but also dangerous and extremely deceptive.  In her second collection, Siren, Kateri Lanthier explores the form of the ghazal, and pulls from its history of being generally penned down as love poetry. Juxtaposing the idea of the ghazal poem, with the mysterious and alluring siren, Lanthier creates a world of beautifully haunting, yet melancholic images, all focusing on the temptations (good and bad) of love. Lanthier’s writing encompasses the dangerous and alluring aspects that the mythological siren embodies and weaves it into her writing, creating lyrical, witty, and exciting new poetry. Pairing the mythological creature with the universal language of love, she is not only creative, but Lanthier is able to set up a scene of deception and total wanting that perfectly embodies the mixed emotions the speaker feels through this collection.

Kateri Lanthier’s first book, Reporting from Night, was published in 2011, and her work has appeared in numerous journals such as Best Canadian Poetry, and Green Mountain Review. In 2013, Lanthier was awarded the Walrus Poetry Prize. Similar to her debut collection, Lanthier’s second book, Siren, evokes a whimsical melodramatic world where she explores the idea of love and how it is much like a sire: tempting, alluring, dangerous and exciting. By exploring a theme that is widely understood, Kateri Lanthier escalates her writing with sometimes abstract and juxtaposing images, and often uses modern and urban imagery against magical, celestial and oceanic images. Instead of clichéd images and sayings on love, this collection reimagines them in surprising ways connecting it with popular cultural references and, even at times, nursey rhymes. By using these sayings, Lanthier excels at taking a typical image or phrase, and adds a whimsical spin on it, providing fresh images and exciting poetry.

Lanthier plays with fresh forms that heighten her poetic stance, experimenting with many beautifully structured forms. Lanthier’s use of the ghazal form gives her the freedom to couple specific thoughts, and then jump around to separate images. At times the images are unnerving and jarring, but then immediately it is coupled by Lanthier’s playful use of sayings and the familiar.

Lanthier cleverly decided on the ghazal to decipher what it truly means to be in love or in a relationship – as one, but more often as two. Since the ghazal is historically love poetry, however, Lanthier goes even deeper into the psyche of the relationship by using the ghazals couplet line form, representing the two counterparts in this relationship. With this, the poems can  easily play off of images in different ways, creating a whole new meaning to something someone may think they have a grasp on. The reader must stop and think about the meaning, or multiple meanings.

Lanthier also does a remarkable job addressing what it is like to be a human, specifically to relationships with others sexually, physically, and emotionally. “Makeshift Memorial” uses many common and nostalgic images, coupled with a more bizarre or abstract image to make a point. The images are new and different offering the reader something to relate to that is not commonplace: “Yes, yes, rain looks like tears. It sounds like laughter in the gutter./My pattern of behavior is obvious? Then solve my Rubik’s cube mood./Run down the clock little mouse, and whisker, ‘1 am.’” Lanthier plays with the psychology of a relationship using a Rubiks cube, a daunting and at times unsolvable puzzle, as the base of a pattern of behavior. One of her more playful lines uses the  “Hickory Dickory Dock” nursery rhyme, and the “1 am” echoes the idea of I am. Relationships are riddles, nursery rhymes, and mythological creatures; they are also personal, emotional, difficult, and sometimes even confusing and unsolvable.

The book has a small section of haiku’s that are creative, fresh, and still develops on the theme of love and relationships Lanthier is playing out in her collection. Placed under one title, “Haiku,” each has its own subtitle. They can, therefore, be read separately as their own poem or together; love story in small fragments. In her haiku “SEXT” the speaker asks: “What are you wearing?/Something that breathes: a dress/made of living doves.” The small, but structured form provides the reader with a seductive, and poetically human poem. With premise of it as a sext, the poem is already set up, but the language brings the reader back to something more romantic, less seductive: something human.

In Siren, Kateri Lanthier uses language in magical, unnerving, and riddling ways, but never confuses her readers. Instead, sheds even more light on the subject. It seems contradictory, but it makes sense as the pomes of Siren show exactly how magical words and language can be. Lanthier conveys a deep understanding that things are not always butterflies, nor are they headed down easy-street. Her words are hauntingly clear: things are more like Rubiks cubes.

unnamed (2)Rachel Skye Nicholls is lover of words. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing, with an emphasis in Poetry at Chapman University in Southern California. She is the managing director for Anastamos, a graduate interdisciplinary journal. Her work has most recently been published in Cagibi and California’s Best Emerging Writers series. You can find more of her musings at and follow her on Twitter/Instagram @rachskye_.



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