Poems on Love, Family, and Culture: A Review of Still No Word

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In her debut volume of poetry, Still No Word, Shannon Webb-Campbell explores romance, family, and culture in a way that is incredibly unique while still being relatable to readers.

Each poem is beautiful in its own way, whether it is multiple pages long or just a few lines. I found her short poems the most interesting; works like “A Healer’s Lune” say so much with so few words. While her longer poems read more like stories, the short poems make you pause and contemplate what Webb-Campbell is trying to say.

I stared at “A Healer’s Lune” for a solid half-hour, scribbling an entire page of possible interpretations in my notebook. The poem is a lune, which Webb-Campbell described as a poem that “is only three lines long, [so] each word must pack a punch” in an interview last summer when the book was released, and it certainly lives up to her definition. The tiny poem, which contains the volume’s namesake featuring the line “still no word”, possesses very potent feelings of pain, distress, and loneliness, and will give readers shivers if they take the time to read it over.

When asked why she chose this line to be the book’s title, Webb-Campbell explained that “Still No Word is meant to capture the call and silent response of the collection, its echo, as well as how the words themselves cannot settle”.

(photo: breakwaterbooks.com)
(photo: breakwaterbooks.com)

Reading this quote from her interview made me look at her book in a whole new light the second time I read it over. The poems really do seem to linger after you read them, rattling around in your mind as you try to decipher them. That’s the great thing about poetry that novels lack. Poems do not flat-out tell you what they are about. You have to think about them, and the variety of works in Still No Word will certainly get your brain buzzing.

The theme that seems to appear most often in Still No Word is love. In that sense, part of the volume tells a nostalgic story that anyone who has been in love will be able to relate to. “Because We’re Going to Camp Mockingee” chronicles a young relationship, flashing back to the 90s with references to the television sitcom Roseanne, and might provide a reader with the opportunity to look back on their own love life around that time.

“Letters to Berlin” jumps over from the concept of young love to desire – something that everyone can relate to. In this poem, the speaker has a powerful longing to be with someone, to be loved by them, and I think we’ve all shared that feeling at some point or another. But then the reader gets the sense that this love affair turned sour.

Poems like “Modern Astronomy” and “Journey Lullaby (Inside the Gramophone)” have a tone of loneliness and regret, like the speaker made mistakes that their lover has an “inability to forgive”.

It is a sad ending to what seemed like sweet love in “Because We’re Going to Camp Mockingee”, but the unhappy love poems are what will make this work resonate with readers so much. They are truthful. Love is very rarely easy, and it ends badly more often than not.

Even more relatable is Webb-Campbell’s “Emotional Philosophy”, which will bring a tear to reader’s eyes. The poem is one that tells the story of how a person copes with the loss of a family member. In this case it felt like a mother, and in my opinion “Emotional Philosophy” is the most beautiful poem in the entire collection.
The lines are constructed in rhyming or non rhyming couplets, with an oppositional pattern carrying all the way to the end; one line features the speaker being in denial about their family member being gone, and then the next features a detail that they have accepted about this loss.

I think the inner struggle felt in this poem is something anyone who has lost someone will understand – that desire to live and let go, but the inability to do so is universally relatable. The detail that makes this poem so wonderful is how well it presents the journey to acceptance, wrapping it all up in a beautifully written little bow at the end with the lines: “I haven’t thought she’s watching over me like you / noted in the margins. / I’ve believed you were.”

Finally, Webb-Campbell gives readers a little taste of her Aboriginal ancestry with the poem “Kepmite’tmnej (Honour Song)”, which paints a picture of Mi’kmaw cultural practices. It is a fascinating poem wedged in with verses about romance and family, and proves just how diverse the content in this volume really is.
There is a little something for everyone in Still No Word, and is a volume of poetry that anyone on campus can enjoy reading.
Still No Word is part of the Lorenzo reading series at UNB Saint John. Copies of the book are available at the campus bookstore.