Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Serpentine Loop: Skating History Through Poetry



"Elee Krajili Gardiner's poetry bowled me over with its breadth of emotion and vision. Her writing has the movement of someone who understands skating." - Dick Button

From Margaret Atwood's poem "Woman Skating" to Alice Munro's short story "The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink", skating has long been a cherished subject of the writing of Canada's most gifted writers. With her 2016 book "Serpentine Loop", Vancouver based Elee Kraljii Gardiner adds her name to that incredible list.

In "Scribe", the very first poem in the collection, Gardiner establishes a firm connection to and respect for skating history: "I was on the ice before I could walk. // In the womb then in her arms." She refers to her mother, Olympic Gold Medallist, World, North American and U.S. Champion Tenley Albright. History lifts off almost every page. From an 1849 rescue of a drowning skater on the frozen Schuylkill River to the sombre meditation of school figures, Gardiner takes you along on a journey through time. If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the ice and hear the sound of a loop being patiently carved.

People, places and things from skating history jump out at every (three) turn: Charlotte, Maribel Vinson-Owen, Henning Grenander, the Skating Club Of Boston, the Mercury Scud. From the quiet concentration of early morning practices to bringing humanity to lost skaters of yesteryear who have perished when they fell through ice, the stories in this gem of a book give skating history new life.


One of my favourite pieces in "Serpentine Loop" is called "Absurd Figures". Through allegory, Gardiner compares the exclusivity of the skating world and the pressure to live up to the expectations of coaches and judges to the need to 'fit in' in social circles we feel we are on the outskirts of. It's a beautiful piece, as is "Final Flight", a touching tribute to the victims of the 1961 Sabena Flight 548 Crash. Though some of the pieces do draw from Gardiner's own skating experiences, the majority capture skating's broader essence.

"Serpentine Loop" is currently available in paperback edition on both Amazon.com and Anvil Press. You can learn more about Elee Kraljii Gardiner and the book on her website at https://eleekg.com. If there's one figure skating book you buy this summer, please make this it.

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