Rope, A Tale Told in Prose and Verse

Rope, A Tale Told in Prose and Verse by Louise Carson.  Broken Rules Press, 2011, 53 pages


I first heard of Louise Carson’s new work, Rope, when she read the opening scene at Twigs and Leaves, the monthly open mic event held in Ste-Anne-De-Bellevue.   The audience, composed mostly of poets and other writers, was drawn to attention like a family of wolves lifting their keen noses, appreciatively and curiously, to a new scent blowing in.   Rope opens with a medieval hanging, an unusual birth, and a surprise, but, amid the positive commentary, one scholar raised an important historical note going to the heart of Carson’s tale: a pregnant woman would be able to plead for her life, on the basis of her condition, delaying her hanging until after the birth or until it was evident she was not with child.  But the question, “Why didn’t she plead her belly?” hasn’t been Carson’s stumbling block.  Instead, she has incorporated it into the work, alongside the mysteries, superstitions, songs, and revelations that make up this “tale told in prose and verse”.   Carson knows when to plait, coil, apply a twist, and keep the work taut, but also when to let it unwind, or fly in an unexpected direction.  Carefully chosen archaic words support the storytelling without distracting, giving the reader the pleasure of being drawn into a historical time almost as if it was one’s own recollection, or as if such characters could be met at the end of some recently forgotten path through a nearby woods.  These characters, necessarily living at the margins of their society despite fulfilling acknowledged roles, resonate with us today, along with the themes of judgement, fate, hope, work, and recompense.  The simplicity and craft of the writing is complemented by the equally inspired design by Broken Rules Press, which features medieval woodcut illustrations amid Carson’s episodes of prose and bursts of poetry.  The text is set in a legible font based on 17th Century typefaces, giving the impression of a treasured antique volume.  Carson’s protagonist  would hardly have been pleased with less attention to detail.  As he remarks on his own handiwork, he notes, “The thin rope is more trouble, requires more delicate splitting of the widdies and tighter braiding.  It’s a pretty thing my thin rope when it’s finished.”   There is much to take pride in, in this small yet exceptional book.

Paris Elizabeth Sea is a Montreal poet.