New Brunswick by Shane Neilson

First impressions upon reading New Brunswick:

  • I felt like I went a few rounds with Yvon Durelle, the Fighting Fisherman, so hard-hitting is the emotional impact of this collection.
  • I was amazed at how much of New Brunswick’s history, current affairs and sense of place Mr. Neilson incorporates into his poems.

I tried to read New Brunswick in one sitting, but the power of his words forced me to put down this slim volume and pause. I also wanted to write down my first impressions while they still glowed in my memory where everything soon turns to cold embers.

Having lived in New Brunswick for all of twelve years, I find myself uninformed about much of its history, so much of the introductory Part I: New Brunswick: A Timeline Legend was lost on me. Of course, I know the significance of 1755 (Acadian expulsion) and 1825 (Great Miramichi Fire), but others necessitated a visit to the Internet. There are six parts to New Brunswick, and I’m not going to summarize all of them, but I’ll share a few passages that I believe are representative of the whole.

Part III: Broken Crown on the Neilson Family Table centers around the Neilson’s family handmade table:

Base an old trunk, the treated roots fire-singed
and dipped in varnish, swung to one side
as if, in a former life, nourishment came
just from the south. The trunk runs two-
and-a-half-feet up until a dull plywood
buttress fastens the thick stem to two fused
and planed lengthwise sections of an old oak.
Bark ridges the rim in rippling waves,
the table-ends leaving a live-edge V
so no one can preside at head or foot.
Only four souls can dine—the Neilson clan.
In time, knots deepened their dissent, absorbing
most of the dye, darkening off-black on brown
background. My place: at the right hand.

The author, as a young boy repeatedly recalls his father’s fist crashing down on the table, a weathered table that “instead of hard tools, books now line the battered top,” so this particular table is now full of intertwined family and NB history for Mr. Neilson.

One more I will share is Alden Knowlan Told Me This In a Dream, from Part IV:

Cheapened by need, lower and lower we
are laid. Lower and lower. Question: is
need bedded in body as a burial pit
cradles a corpse? All’s unwell

that ends. We have so little time together.
Whole forests moved by logging men,
touchscreens aglow with fluorescent weather, whole forests crash in alternate time.

I remember when true love was forever.
It’s love we profess, but it’s guessing
men do. Who wants to know what’s not my lie?
New Brunswick born, in New Brunswick we’ll die,

New Brunswick the muse and curse, the Go
Forth command, the blue avenue and green duvet.
I’m terrified and was made so at birth.
Love, I shout, for the worst that I’m worth.

The “blue avenue” being the Saint John River and the “green duvet” the forests that blanket New Brunswick. The eyes of a poet always amaze me, the way they see things, both considerable and minute. There is even a touch of mirth in New Brunswick: “This Massey transmits chagrin right to the ass.” (from Massey-Ferguson), “Your Beaverbrook is Lord of old rinks, rough culture, and non-dynastic title.” (from Part V, #8) and “Potatoes and gas pumps fund your kingdom.” (from #6)

Many of the poems in New Brunswick have been previously published, and having them all in one collection is a gift for all lovers of poetry, particularly admirers of specialized regional works such as this. I’m putting New Brunswick on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Award for Poetry.

Praise for New Brunswick:

“Immediately evident in Neilson’s writing is an attentive musicality…Extensive and grounding imagery…[His] sharp observations entice. New Brunswick rings in tone and tribute as a moody historic elegy.” —Quill & Quire

New Brunswick by Shane Neilson

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.

2 thoughts on “New Brunswick by Shane Neilson”

  1. I’ve only read New Brunswick once so far, but I was stunned by more than a few of the poems. “Ormocto” stuck out to me as did “Broken Crown.” This an emotionally challenging collection, but there’s so much depth that I feel like I could read it thirty times and still find something new. I think more than anything else, as a kid growing up looking for creative work with this kind of scope and intimacy about the province, I’m just so happy this book exists. I’m looking forward to the weekend so I’ll have a chance to read through it again.

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