Annick MacAskill's Murmurations
Reviewed by Erica McKeen
When Annick MacAskill wrote her second full-length poetry collection, Murmurations (Gaspereau Press, 2020), she never could have known that April, 2020 onward would become its perfect reading context. As businesses around the world closed, travel between countries (not to mention provinces) became restricted, and social isolation in one’s home became the new norm, people all over the globe struggled to practice alternate forms of communication. In order to keep the economy afloat and, just as importantly, stave off loneliness, many took to the internet, teaching themselves technological fluency and partaking in instantaneous information transfer, a kind of newly necessary cybernetic language. Connecting to Zoom calls is, after all, just that—the process of connection, a method of correspondence that collapses physical distance into mere seconds on a loading screen.
Those who read Murmurations during this moment in time should, therefore, already be familiar with its underlying premise, what it hopes to communicate, its “murmurations,” so to speak. It is primarily a book about separation and connection, a book that investigates the possibilities of connection through separation. In “Echolocation,” MacAskill wonders, “And where / would all this missing go? So long now / I’ve been waiting for the end of winter.” Isolated and impatient, aching in the absence left by her long-distance lover, the narrator proposes a solution: “Open your mouth / and try your lungs—let the song cross kilometres / to reach me.” As the title of the poem suggests, the narrator describes a type of echolocation, a “song” that bounces back and forth across the void of geographical remoteness. MacAskill presents a new form of communication that, although not overtly technological (in fact, throughout Murmurations this communication is explicitly organic and natural, continually equated with echolocation and bird song), shares with its technological counterpart its immediacy, its ability to build a bridge across the valley of physical distance.
MacAskill’s method of communication does not only span physical distances, but it also requires them. Like sound waves reverberating against an eardrum, her words use physical structures—geography, architecture, even bodies—as their medium of communication. The fact that many of the poem titles in Murmurations are place names and locations underscores the importance of landscape and setting to the central love story. In her poem, “Ringbolt,” she writes that “[y]our body against mine is a hymn we’ll teach the walls,” suggesting that love is the creation of a song that moves outside of the body and into the world. MacAskill illustrates romantic love as existing in and through the world, an interior, sexual, and rhythmic connection that is sanctioned by the space in which it emerges. She presents the possibility of living in tandem and collaboratively with the world. Through poetry, she answers the questions, How does our love for each other echo around our physical space? How does our love decenter us and throw the outside, the other, into stark existence, into full, almost preferential vitality?
Murmurations calls for a form of communication that is deeper than language, expressed through the physicality of space and sex. In “Early Days,” MacAskill writes,