Review: Renaissance Normcore feels intimately familiar

Renaissance Normcore is a poetry collection that presents a sharp-tongued yet intimate look into the art of navigating romance and identity in an increasingly difficult social climate.

Dr. Adèle Barclay, an instructor in UBC’s faculty of arts, is the voice behind this searing collection, her second publication following the award-winning If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You in 2016.

This second collection is a darkly humorous mix of deeply personal micro-histories and abstract musings on the nature of the heavens. At times both critical and tender, Barclay’s stripped-down, minimalist verse leaps off the page in the minutia of Aeroplan points and Justin Bieber songs. The microscopic details of her day-to-day mundanities contrast with the grandeur of her astrological descriptions as she seeks to question the nature of power, love and identity.

Astrology features heavily in this collection, a common thread between many of the poems. The constant references to the lesser-known details of solar astrology weigh down many of the poems — at times, this theme seems somewhat cliched in the current astrologically-saturated climate, where everyone and their mother seems to know their sun and moon signs off by heart.

But Barclay’s use of micro-anecdotes brings her poems to life in a vibrantly vulnerable way. Her descriptions of seemingly unimportant snapshots give an intimate look at the emotions that underscore her daily activities — a single line about her inability to get out of bed on time tints the entire poem with a sense of futility. These moments are where Barclay lays herself emotionally bare to convey a deeper emotion — and they work. For the reader, these startlingly intimate moments immerse themselves in the emotional atmosphere she creates. Rather than an outright statement of feeling, Barclay’s verse pulls the reader into the moment and forces them to feel it as she does.

Overall, Barclay’s biting vocabulary and cynical pop-culture allegories deftly weave a tapestry of painfully modern experiences — the end of Greyhound Bus service in Western Canada, the price of Spotify premium, the fatigue of grading first-year papers. This collection successfully capitalizes on our current culture of “relatable” content, as the raw and real experiences in Barclay’s verse construct a story that is intimately familiar.