Review: Arleen Paré’s “The Girls with Stone Faces”

It is a challenging feat to find the words to describe poetry as inspired as Arleen Paré’s. Her work defies description; it wants to be read, not explained. Paré holds the English language in her hand and wraps it around her reader with a profound kindness. Reading her work feels like coming home.

The book cover of The Girls with Stone Faces. Two women sit facing right on a blue-washed background. They are both wearing shawls around their shoulders and have their dark hair tied back from their faces.
The cover of The Girls with Stone Faces by Arleen Paré and published by Brick Books.

A Victoria-based poet, Paré carries on the tradition of West-Coast poetry with her playful lines and gentle language. She spins her poems like silk into a unit of tender vitality. With her latest book, she curates an exquisite collection of poetry guaranteed to leave you breathless. She introduces two narratives and connects them with such stark imagery that you are bound to feel like a patron in her gallery.

Published by Brick Books, The Girls with Stone Faces examines the relationship between Florence Wyle and Frances Loring, two great twentieth-century sculptors. The book walks us through the National Gallery of Canada, examining sculptures and bearing witness to the love shared between the artists. From the first to the last rooms, we walk between and around the illustrious sculptures in the gallery and peel back stone layers to peer into the lives of the women featured in the collection.

The first-person narrator appears early in the collection—“In the National Gallery, Room A105”—to open the door and invite us inside. Our curator takes us by the hand and illuminates a love so private that it feels divine. Just like a tour guide, she shows up to offer her insight and her expertise without overwhelming us. Patient and understanding, she lets the art speak for itself, inserting herself only to make sure we understand the gravity of the art we get to observe.

A photo of Arleen Paré, a woman with short blonde hair, a black braided necklace, and a black long-sleeved shirt.
Arleen Paré, the author of The Girls with Stone Faces. Photo was taken from the author’s page on Brick Books’ website.

At its core, this work is about two women in love. From the prosaic “First Love” to the lyrical “I’m Still in Love,” we are asked to consider that creation and love go hand in hand. A nice sentiment for the idealistic artists among us, certainly, but this poetry transforms the sentiment into an irrefutable fact. Frances and Florence’s love is as artistic as their sculptures are, and Paré structures her book to blend their love with their art, presenting them as one and the same.

My recommendation? Pick up a hot drink and read this book under an oak tree. Or in a gallery. Or by a lake. This poetry is quietly sublime, and it demands an environment that reflects its nature. Start at the beginning and read to the end. Take heed when Paré tells you that “when love enters it fills more than space or a ledger or time.”

You will find love here; let it fill you.

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