Geographies of a Lover by Sarah de Leeuw — review by Mark McCawley

Geographies of a Lover


by Sarah de Leeuw


review by Mark McCawley


Geographies of a Lover Sarah de LeeuwGeographies of a Lover
by Sarah de Leeuw
Edmonton : NeWest Press, 1 April 2012.
ISBN 978-1-897126-78-3
80 pp, 6 x 9, $14.95 CAN


There is no angle the world can assume which the love in my eye cannot make into a symbol of love. Even the precise geometry of his hand, when I gaze at it, dissolves me into water…

—Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, 1945.


Geographies of a Lover — a bold, erotic prose poem (in long poem form) composed in eight sections: distance, place, topography, scale, mapping, contour lines, borderlands and north; and within each section, further composed into specific coordinates of latitudes and longitudes denoting specific place — is Prince George, British Columbia writer Sarah de Leeuw’s second book and first poetry collection.

Although drawing inspiration from such works as Pauline Réage’s The Story of O and Marian Engel’s Bear; it’s no coincidence that de Leeuw uses a quote from Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945) to open her book. Both works function as landmark works, watersheds so to speak in writing by women, as well as watersheds in the writing of female sexuality. Indeed, de Leeuw’s prose poem joins the works of Erica Jong, Judy Blume, and more recently, Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-ups in their blunt, unabashed, unapologetic contemplations of female sexuality.

One can well imagine someone asking themselves, “How can she say such things?”

“i think of asking you to reach down, please slip a finger into me… if you were here i would say ease into me illuminated in the half light, bending as malleably as the hooves on a newly born moose calf… enter me with a fast one stroke forcing my chin against ribs arms bent elbows braced… fingers threading through water you pull out of me, everything but the very tip of your cock exposed and then back inside in this position you can reach around me fully encircle me to rub my clit thrusting we are silent as your balls slap me…”

—Sarah de Leeuw, Geographies of a Lover, p.15, p.17, p.20

Throughout Canadian literature and literary criticism there runs a certain prudery with matters relating to sex and sexuality and, in particular, female sexuality. There is an almost cultural unwillingness to engage in a frank critical discussion. Reviews are quite often mere regurgitated press materials avoiding full, frank discussions of female sexuality altogether.

Sarah de Leeuw has her own misgivings regarding how sex in literature in Canada penned by women is too often soft-stepped, and this is one of the boundaries de Leeuw certainly obliterates in Geographies of a Lover (listen to her exchange with Paul Matwychuk, General Manager of NeWest Press):

Sarah de Leeuw — “Misgivings…” (NeWest Press Podcast, Episode 17, 12 March 2012)

As a human geographer, preoccupied with human relationships, human relations with each other, the varied spaces they occupy, and how these physical spaces (including the human body — male or female) affect these relationships is one of the central allegories of de Leeuw’s book, requiring a more careful response:

Sarah de Leeuw — “A More Careful Response” (NeWest Press Podcast, Episode 17, 12 March 2012)

Another important accomplishment of de Leeuw’s Geographies of a Lover is that it does away with, or endeavours to do away with traditional, romanticized notions about land, wilderness, and the female body by its use of blunt, straight-forward, muscular contemplations:

Sarah de Leeuw — “Doing away with romanticized ideas about land, wilderness, and the female body” (NeWest Press Podcast, Episode 17, 12 March 2012)

The places de Leeuw writes about in Geographies of a Lover are quite varied. The coordinates of latitudes and longitudes identify specific spaces the lovers occupy at various times throughout their affair. “all the way from mcbride through to the rocky mountains and down again into the prairies your cock is hard for weeks bumping into me…” (Geographies of a Lover, p.27)

Sarah de Leeuw — “I think places are remarkably varied” (NeWest Press Podcast, Episode 17, 12 March 2012)

In the segment, “Place”, and the cooordinates 47002’53.87″N 8018’03.19″E, de Leeuw combines the concept of metaphoric sexual transformation with that of the body and of place. The intimacy of sex combined with the spacial and temporal embodiment of place creates a singular clarity in which the body becomes a sensual allegory reflecting the natural world’s inherent power. Full of delicious Paul Klee images, vibrant colours and animals. Lyrical, strong, liberating — Sarah de Leeuw’s Geographies of a Lover is brilliantly transgressive, written without apologies, without ideologies, without prudery, in a blunt, straight-forward, muscular style.

Sarah de Leeuw — Place / 47002’53.87″N 8018’03.19″E (NeWest Press Podcast, Episode 17, 12 March 2012)

Geographies of a Lover is also a text about absence, distance, and loss.

Distance is what defines a lover… i pretend not to notice your absence try not to look behind me hoping you might appear unexpectedly… You tell me the billboard outside your hotel reads: “Best Rooms in Town, Only Bar.” The moments between us are so tiny. If we thought love was monumental, we were right. It is monumentally small, beyond comprehension, an impossible thing to grasp.

—Sarah de Leeuw, Geographies of a Lover, p.12, p.13, p.15, p.34



It is a searing migration, this walk over tarmac gap, this movement
from lounge to fuselage, this somewhere between being in your
arms and being back home, in separate countries.

A sparkling airport desert under cold bright sky. A dry liminal
land devoid of habitation. Asphalt, yellow lines, and wings.
We obey signs. We do not run backwards. We do not behave
suspiciously as our hearts shatter.

Lines between nations have always separated people from the
ones they love. Without regard to sinew or tendons stretched
to their limits. Without notice of aching. Of abandonment.
Of weeping in these swaths of guarded territory.

—Sarah de Leeuw, Geographies of a Lover, p.51


Sarah de Leeuw

Sarah de Leeuw, a creative writer and geographer, is a two-time recipient of a CBC Literary Prize in Creative Non-Fiction (“Columbus Burning”, 2008 and “Quick, Quick. Slow. Slow.”, 2009) and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and a PhD in Cultural-Historical Geography from Queen’s University. She grew up in northern British Columbia, on Haida Gwaii and in Terrace, and is currently an assistant professor in the Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern British Columbia and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of two books of essays (Unmarked: Landscapes Along Highway 16, NeWest Press 2004, and Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia, Creekstone Press 2011) and the book of poetry (in the long poem tradition) Geographies of a Lover (NeWest 2012) for which de Leeuw was awarded the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.

Note: To listen to the complete NeWest Press Podcast with Sarah de Leeuw and Paul Matwychuk, General Manager of NeWest Press, click on the following — Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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