Curtis LeBlanc’s Birding In The Glass Age Of Isolation

[dropcap]In [/dropcap]Curtis LeBlanc’s Birding In The Glass Age of Isolation, mental illness, masculinity, and storytelling are all explored in this worthy follow-up to his first book Little Wild (2018). Like the hunters he writes about, LeBlanc practices patience and careful observations leading readers through poem after poem as he seeks a verbal equivalent for the anxiety he feels.

Clearly one of LeBlanc’s triggering subjects for his poetry is his father, and it ignites one of the best poems in the collection “On Seeing My Father In Brueughel’s Winter Landscape With Skaters And A Bird Trap”. LeBlanc ends the poem with:

“Father, I have become you, some small shape
in the foreground, bracing myself for another
record winter and waiting for the sky to fall.”

The “waiting for the sky to fall” is the first hint of loneliness and anxiety that threads many of the pieces in this sophomore collection together.

Another terrific poem is “Stubborn Properties” which invokes the American poet Natalie Shapero at the beginning of the poem and talks specifically about how toxic masculinity can be a cloak for many young men struggling with mental illness:

I’m using a Band-Aid as a bookmark, Natalie,
reading the poems in Hard Child,
thinking about all the times I nearly gave up
my ghost as a kid because it was hard
to imagine the shortcomings of my physical body
could ever keep me from all the hot air
I saw as necessary.

Later in the same poem, after describing a go-kart race and a harrowing inner tube adventure down a river, LeBlanc writes:

“Worse still was driving the Coquihalla
with Alex, my pupils constricted to black pencil
tips, my sickness a whirlpool of static and colour
from the mountainsides around me.”

This is a deeply revealing poem that cuts through male bravado with the precision of a scalpel to find the little battles the poet fights within himself.

While reading this collection of poems, one cannot help but notice LeBlanc feels out of step with the world, or as he writes in “Derealization”, “ Lost in an empty room / with everyone you know”, but at the same time, I think it is this social distance which allows him to be such an astute observer of humanity. He writes many richly drawn poems like “Career Aptitude” and “Wild Blueberry Pie” which are reminiscent of Philip Levine in their grit and narrative strength.

The last poem in the collection is “In Pépère’s Punch” where LeBlanc’s lyricism, anxiety, and worldly experience combine effortlessly in its ending:

“I’ve seen the northern lights
ruin a perfectly dark sky

and slept in fields of fresh cut
grass. I’ve cried myself

short of breath on strangers’
back porches, shaking

uncontrollably in the arms
of people whose names and faces

I forget. If you showed me
a clear path home, I’d call bullshit.

There are miles of young
mountains and highways frozen

between us. It’s been a short life
so far and I already know too much.“

Sure, there is a restlessness and emotional unease here, but the line “I already know too much” suggests there is also a feeling LeBlanc has found some new knowledge too, a way of illuminating the world, unique to himself.

Curtis LeBlanc’s Birding In The Glass Age Of Isolation offers readers a generous, personal up-close look at anxiety from a poet who is getting better with every book. His forms are self-assured, his stories compelling. I look forward to LeBlanc’s development as a poet for he easily assimilates the rawness of human experience into controlled poems that demand to be reread.

Birding In The Glass Age Of Isolation by Curtis LeBlanc
Nightwood Editions

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Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of six collections of poems with Deepfake Serenade from Nightwood Editions forthcoming in Fall 2021. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.