Category Archives: Poetry

Bill Arnott’s Beat: Independents’ Day

Independent bookstores shouldn’t exist. Brick-and-mortar bibliophile havens are retail models waiting to be business school case studies, “Why These Can’t Work.” TV narcissi could bleat indefinitely as to why they’d never invest in such ventures. But they do exist. And despite every reason why they shouldn’t, they thrive.

I was in one of these doomed locales, its interior walls a swathe of indigenous authors, poetry, and every stripe of an LGBTQ2S writers’ rainbow – a showcase of all that’s good in the world of books. I like spending money in places like this, places of dusty optimism. I wonder how much of the cash finds its way to the till, not really caring, and parcel it off in my conscious with passing coins to anonymous symbols of a failed system at streetlights and traffic-jammed offramps.

This particular bastion of futility is in downtown Vancouver. It fits the neighbourhood. The pungent scent of fried spice melds with organic coffee and hipster beard.

This particular bastion of futility is in downtown Vancouver. It fits the neighbourhood. The pungent scent of fried spice melds with organic coffee and hipster beard. There’s grass nearby and shifting pockets of urban tents. Inside the high-shelved sanctum a rolling library ladder hangs at an inviting, oblique angle, making me want to pretend I’m a firefighter or cast in a musical. The stacks themselves move to create event space. There’s a secret room, or at least there was until now. Upstairs, gallery space features rotating art displays with sitting space and a mix of new and old books.

I was part of a poetry reading group that met there. The series kicked off a new year showcasing emerging indigenous authors – five powerhouse writers reading a combination of published and unpublished work: Jules Koostachin, Larry Nicholson, Gunargie O’Sullivan, Wil George, and Tawahum Justin Peter Bige. I first met some of these skilled wordsmiths at Vancouver’s Verses Festival (formerly Vancouver International Poetry Festival) and the Talking Stick / Full Circle Festival.

Bige’s work danced between contemporary verse and spoken word. George read with succinct insight and the raw truth of his peers. O’Sullivan’s reading was as much informative conversation as evocative, from-the-heart writing. Nicholson’s whimsical work was a passenger seat on an engaging fair ride, and Vancouver Public Library resident storyteller Koostachin read from her book Unearthing Secrets: Gathering Truths, sharing spiritual dreams, her warm presence as powerful as her film work.

Nearby, two outlets of long time independent bookseller Book Warehouse prosper. Over the years the business has grown and shrunk yet keeps its niche amongst the chains where I have to hunt to find a book amongst the giftware. A short distance away are three outlets of Pulpfiction, a successful independent for nearly twenty years.

At the reading event I made my way to the stacks of poetry. Getting through the crowd took time – hugs, smiles, stories, welcoming clumps of humanity. It felt good. If some PR rep were looking for a photo op, it was here. Truth, caring, and healing, with books. Tangibility of people and paper I find nowhere else.


Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Allan’s Wishes, and Wonderful Magical Words. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s work is published around the globe. Find Bill on social media @billarnott_aps, Amazon, Goodreads, bookstores, libraries and lit fests everywhere.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Crow Gulch: poetry by Douglas Walbourne-Gough

(The following is a guest review by Newfoundland author Tom Halford. Tom is the author of Deli Meat, a 2019 shortlisted novel for Best First Book)

One of the most captivating elements of Douglas Walbourne-Gough’s Crow Gulch is the powerful humanism running through the collection. The prose poem “Fuck this town” is a strong example of how Walbourne-Gough challenges readers to pause and consider people’s lives:

I swear, too, the next bastard that calls me jackatar’s gonna get a good shit-knockin’. I just gets so angry with it all. (33)

This poem reminds me of the late, great New Brunswick novelist Raymond Fraser and the conclusion to his underappreciated work The Bannonbridge Musicians. As with Fraser, there is a deep, sympathetic eye in Walbourne-Gough’s work for the people in his community going through a rough patch in their lives.

The attention paid to those who are struggling is tied to uncomfortable elements of Newfoundland’s complex history and culture. For example, “Definition” covers the various meanings for jackatar:

jackatar… A Newfoundlander of mixed French and Micmas [sic] indian [sic] descent. (20)

But Walbourne-Gough quickly moves from descriptive language used to define jackatar to another definition that reveals the painful histories behind this slur:

in the winter the Jack-o-tars chiefly subsist on eels; they are a lazy, indolent people, and I am told, addicted to thieving. (21).

The collection as a whole challenges readers to consider the way settler culture demeans and marginalizes indigenous culture. As Walbourne-Gough writes in his introduction to the work, the title refers to a part of the community that risks being forgotten:

Many of the families who settled here [Crow Gulch] were of Indigenous ancestry, and the common derogatory epithet for Indigenous people of mixed French and Mi’kmaq descent in southwestern Newfoundland was “jackatar.” (11)

As someone who perpetually feels like he has something to learn, I appreciated reading about this history from Walbourne-Gough’s perspective.

I am worried that the Regional Poetry Review Watch as headed by Superintendent Neilson* might accuse me of being woke, so I also want to stress that Crow Gulch is above all else an incredible collection of poems about loss and love and family; I am thinking of stunning lines such as “we live on the future’s brilliant, polished edge” (43) and of the brilliant conclusion to “Influences”:

I think on that feeling,

coming home after months away,

standing on the deck, approaching

Port aux Basques. Never so happy

to feel the bitter wind running you

through to the bone. (29)

To love the cold, to love the barrenness of the island might sound counter-intuitive, but these experiences are a sincere aspect of loving Newfoundland. Walbourne-Gough connects this description of the harsh weather to the speaker’s life growing up in Corner Brook. This bitter metaphor blows through Crow Gulch and the complex histories that Walbourne-Gough explores.

This is a beautiful, angry, compassionate book, and I fully recommend getting a copy.

(* I only write this in fun. I’m a big fan of Shane Neilson’s work.)

Crow Gulch by Douglas Walbourne-Gough
Goose Lane Editions

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Crisp-Maned Bay by Nancy Mackenzie

I like mythology as much as the next guy, assuming that guy does, in fact, like mythology. Next to the Norse, the Greeks did a fine job of it, leaving it to those self-important Romans to change every character’s name in history’s most flagrant example of plagiarism. You could read all about it but I’ve yet to find a publisher for my manuscript Why Romans Lie, Cheat and Steal. Truly sagacious stuff, if I say so myself.

Nancy Mackenzie takes us there – a place and a time – deliciously blurred into the present. And she does it with originality in Crisp-Maned Bay. So buckle up, or chain yourself to an Argo oar, and let’s embark on our odyssey. “Unto the sea. Where the red to purple light / sinks and glows and rises like campfire flames / or an angel performing rights and guarding me, / my heart a luminous stone in the deep sea.”

Set into three sections – Marble Island, The Mermaid’s Tale, and What We Are Formed By Nature to Bear – Mackenzie’s work forms a poetic triptych, finding uniformity in a blend of dreamy introspection, observation, and personal experience. With a toe in the water, we peer through a glassless window, a portal to seemingly everyday seaside scenes. “The way a woman folds cloth / patterned with nautical blue // The way a woman rows a dinghy, / her nine-year-old catching serpent fish on the shoreline.”

Mackenzie manages a musical playfulness akin to fauns dancing through a glade, or in this instance Greek hills, finding their way into town as we join the author for Greek Coffee (Metrio) and a Slice of Karidopita. “Clouds gather amid the mountains, / doves coo and a goat bleats. The surf / attending to its needs, erases as it sings its songs. // Mermaids rise / in wrought iron, a recent date – 1998 – / in mosaic at the apartment’s lip / and the Mycenae acropolis-symbols / and imagination, temples for ordinary citizens / no matter, no matter, the time of day.”

And with pleasing circularity we’re brought home by way of water, across time to Alberta, New Year’s Day, to a lake just west of Edmonton. “We went inside and shared our stories, / and the grey ghost left me alone / for a little while. Its tattered raiment / fluttering around in Mink Lake air on Renata’s deck. / Across the way, cross-country skiers schussing and clipping by, / the sun low on the horizon, / a memory of childhood surfacing.”

First published in Canadian Poetry Review.

Crisp-Maned Bay by Nancy Mackenzie
Ekstasis Editions

About the Author: Nancy Mackenzie is the author of several books of poetry and books for children. A dressage enthusiast and long-time fan of horse-racing, Mackenzie lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She teaches Creative Writing at Grant MacEwan University and operates a professional writing and editing service called Bronze Horse Communications. A novel, Nerve Line, was published by Ekstasis Editions in 2014.

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Little Red by Kerry Gilbert

Grey. That was the day. Like most November days in Vernon, BC. Bundling against cold, I made my way from Sveva Caetani’s pleasantly haunted mansion across a downtown where I lived, worked, and grew up (somewhat) for the first twenty years of my life. I was going to meet Kerry Gilbert. As creative writing instructor at Okanagan College, Gilbert personifies all that’s good in contemporary literature. Colleagues seem unable to hide envy as they acknowledge her writing accolades. (At least the one or two I spoke with.) But they don’t stay jealous long. It’s hard not to like Kerry. We were meeting for coffee at a place called Triumph. I admit I felt like a winner. Being early I settled in with a washbasin of latte.

I felt the author’s energy before she walked in, ebullience radiating like rolling red carpet. I knew the smile from social media. In person, the poet’s energy supplanted my tub of caffeine. Sharing an alma mater and a hometown, we had plenty to talk about, visceral memories the common theme. Like the imagined carpet preceding her, I found crimson colouring an otherwise monochrome day, blush of autumn deciduous and the hooded cloak of a forest bound girl.

Gilbert’s quick-paced enthusiasm in conjunction with poignant observation and gritty experience is evident throughout Little Red, her new book of poems. That trail curls back to Sveva’s place, the living structure a pivotal player as much of Little Red was written within those walls – a compact room with a storybook view – the kind of space I’d expect Perrault or the Grimm boys to set quill to paper, scribing early adaptations of the tale. Yes, it’s been told countless times, but never like this. “Her body too is facedown in the ground / like we are planting children now, and / their thin limbs vein across sand and soil // an offering to the gods – a sacrifice // we sing soft nursery rhymes while we / place water on their raised foreheads / pray this time to sow a better crop.”

Judiciously portioned into well-trimmed servings, Kerry’s interpretation pulls us along in tidy chapters, a riparian flow without traditional titles topping each poetic installment. In a suitable haze, lines blur between anticipatory warning and raw statement of fact. “In the summer of mounting heat / the timber forest so, so dry / when matchstick lightning strikes / our words become water heavy // the sound of retardant bombers / like wasps near the ear are / constant – a relentless prompt / of smoke so thick, it chokes // where do we go from here / surrounded by so much fire / we put our family on a boat / and search for new, new land.”

But with a lupine lunge we’re snatched, deep in the maw, the tale now grisly and all too real. “When Scarlet enrolls in college / she is the first female to do so / in her family, the band members / approve tuition and book allotment / as long as she has progress reports / signed by her instructors each week // Scarlet loves children’s lit / because she is drawn to stories, in- / citing incident, rising action, climax / denouement – open or closed – but / when Wolf has the barrel of his gun / in her mouth and tells her to suck it // for the life of her, she can’t / remember how this one ends.”

Which conjures an unnerving memory, a Vernon night in forest hills as coyotes howled – wolf calls and cries of still fresh prey – along unforgiving highway that Gilbert drives most days, past homeless prophets and makeshift memorials. “But what of the girl in the passenger seat / who isn’t killed on impact when the others are // when she is thrown from the car and flies / over the spot with the man and his sign // where do you stand with jesus christ? / where she lands, plastic flowers are planted.”

While predatorial musk hangs heavy in each suite of verse, optimism remains, resilient. This is not poetry to simply be read. More than inky veins on paper, we feel the warning of elders, vulnerability of experience braided with a mother’s protection – fierce yet unfailingly compassionate. “[S]he lets the image fall to the side / of the highway where a black bear / may sniff it later. she looks back / and gives a reassuring smile // to all of the children.”

Once more I finish this book and am struck by Kerry’s gift, her skill – utterly unique verse – the result of effort and knowing one’s voice. Little Red is indeed a seamless and uniform fable, at times uncomfortably real. I envision a poetry neophyte questioning this flight of compact pieces – a path of polished stepping stones. Are these poems? Is this a story? Are these headlines? The simple answer is yes. Little Red is all of these things, innovative and brave. It’s what I seek out in a book of poetry. That eureka moment when an Artist-and-Repertoire agent says “Yes!” This is new. This is special. The reinvention of an ancient, cautionary tale through contemporary characters, reality and firsthand knowledge. Well done Kerry Gilbert.

(First published by the League of Canadian Poets)

Little Red: New Poems by Kerry Gilbert
Mother Tongue Publishing

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About the Author: Kerry Gilbert lives in Vernon, where she teaches Creative Writing at Okanagan College. Her first book of poetry, (kerplnk): a verse novel of development, was published in 2005 with Kalamalka Press. Her second book of poetry, Tight Wire, was published in 2016 with Mother Tongue Publishing. Gilbert has won the Gwendolyn MacEwan Poetry Award for Best Suite by an Emerging Writer and has been shortlisted for ReLit, for the Ralph Gustafson Prize for the Best Poem, for the Pacific Spirit Poetry Contest and for the Gwendolyn MacEwan Poetry for Best Suite by an Established Writer.

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Fox Haunts by Penn Kemp

First time I saw a fox I was atop an open-air double-decker trundling along the Cornish coast, intermittently thrashed by leafy birch, reminiscent of being in a Finnish sauna. I was compelled to shield my eyes – what was there beyond my grasp, available only to the worthy. In fact, it was present for everyone. Laid bare, unabashedly rich in beauty and lore. A slender, russet blonde animal, taller than I imagined. Regal. Same as when I met Penn Kemp. Somewhere a fellow trickster – Loki, Kokopelli perhaps, grinned as I carried a newly signed Fox Haunts to my semi-detached lair.

Adaptation runs through this London Laureate’s poems in darting twists, flight from imagined hunter’s horn. At times furtive, dreamily camouflaged, or bounding in plain sight, Kemp’s artistry enraptures. We join Penn in childhood, parents fused to fox memories with A Child’s Garden Fox. “Sleepy, sleeping in my mother’s lap. Nestled. / When. A fox ran in front of the car. And / was transfixed by the headlights. Ran and / ran in front of the car but could not escape.”

In red-hued monochrome, we glimpse dead fur and living banshees in Steal, Stole, Stun. “The dried heads of black fox hung / from my grandmother’s stole as if / ready to strike. Dead flat button jet / eyes shut tight to their own secret.”

And with fireside ease we move through seasons, geography and myth, playful Glow perching us parrot-like on the writer’s shoulder, experiencing evolving words while peering real-time into her thoughts. “That narrow snout surfaces to / figure your next ploy, asking / curiously: ‘Who do you serve?’ // The essential question mocks / my reply. The whole, of course.”

Reading Kemp’s work I feel nestled in a sidecar affixed to the master’s motorbike, confident in her route, at times in conversation, storytelling, or akin to a lie-down on a therapist’s sofa. This book can leave one simultaneously inspired and intimidated, seeing genius expand exponentially with time.

Writing this I’m at Penn’s desk, at least the one she left for me to use in Vernon, BC. Beside me, Fox Haunts lies curled and content, in its rightful place atop the rest. Through a broad bay window a few last leaves cling in vixen colours and from Entertaining the Fox the author’s words linger. “May you be translated. And remain / entirely your own.”

(First published at

About the Author: Poet, performer and playwright Penn Kemp has been celebrated as a trailblazer since her first Coach House publication (1972), and a “one-woman literary industry” as London’s inaugural Poet Laureate and Western’s Writer-in-Residence. She was the League of Canadian Poets’ Spoken Word Artist, 2015. Penn lives in London, Ontario.

Fox Haunts by Penn Kemp
Aeolus House

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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A Lamb by P.W. Bridgman

P.W. Bridgman was not who he appeared to be. He belonged in a comic book. Not Marvel but DC, a justice league of one. But unlike his superhero peers, Bridgman’s alter ego hung up his crime-fighting cape-like robes, having completed his mean street crusade and has since retreated with dignity to his residency – a creative fortress of solitude – his poetic domain.

I don’t know if this is in fact true. I like to believe so. I’ve spent time with both characters – the likeable Bruce Wayne persona as well as skilled poet P.W. Bridgman. A Lamb not only welcomes us into the author’s realm, but props open the door to his secret citadel.

Bridgman’s musicality and romance language fluency come through in meter, tempo and an umami-esque richness in each lyrical line. His narrative style can seamlessly deliver razor wit – BAM – with a heart-rending KAPOW!

From the outset, lamb triggers a mosaic of metaphor – frailty, play, sacrifice, and slaughter. Our journey’s mapped, Charon sporting a sardonic grin as he loosens a hawser line in Time’s Forward Gear. “Mister D’Eath leans calmly in the doorway – / spectral, handsomely framed, a stylish flâneur.”

Bridgman simultaneously guides and conducts, directing the reader while encouraging free jazz interpretation. Three Lamentations bebops us from 7/4 Time through Thirty-Six Bars with an al coda skip to Sonnet Form, pulling us back toward the ferry with a bard’s barbs. But in No Writers Were Harmed in the Making of This Whiskey, we simply can’t shake the hook, coaxed on monofilament to an inevitable net and priest. “Kathleen, Fionnuala and Valeria revel in their / unknowing freedom. Glad and carefree, they / periodically check their new highlights and twilights / in the Vauxhall’s rear-view mirror. They laugh / and chatter while, as the afternoon fades, / Kathleen drives them all home from the hairdresser’s / in Magherafelt back to Knockcloghrim – / to Knockcloghrim where a cheap quartz clock / ticks bravely on and where, like an unexploded artillery shell, / the end of the world awaits their return.”

Another nod to Northern Ireland and the Ulsterbus bombing, which Bridgman weaves home to Canada by way of Heaney and Sinéad Morrissey – a tidy transatlantic crisscross, in There Was Fire in Magherafelt. “There were no surviving signs, no pitting of nearby concrete even / (we looked); / no memorials nor misspelled spray-can epitaphs: Tiocfaidh ár lá!

Knowing precisely when we’re due for recess from deliberation, our author/mediator delivers laconic humour with V-P Sales, One Year Into Retirement. “New man-bun. / Same / old / head.”

And from our side of the pond Bridgman once more pays poetic homage, this time to the best blacksmith in The Purdy Poems, with Party of the Second Part and For God’s Sake, Geddes, Call Him ‘Al.’ To my delight I was there to witness Bridgman wave his bladed poem at a receptive Geddes like a well-versed, affectionate mugger. “I didn’t guess, tho, that at sixty- / five I’d sit myself down to / pen you a jeezly billet– / doux; that I’d find myself / writing you a god- / damned, buck / knife-shaped / love po- / em / V”

No, P.W. Bridgman was not who he appeared to be. For the longest time, the mild-mannered crime-fighter lead a double life, an accomplished poet. A Lamb proves it. I didn’t intend to unmask the man. Kindly keep it a secret. Our metropolis needs him.

First published in Canadian Poetry Review.

About the Author: P.W. Bridgman writes from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has earned undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in psychology and a degree in law as well. Bridgman’s writing has appeared in anthologies published in Canada, Ireland, England and Scotland, and his first book—a selection of short stories entitled Standing at an Angle to My Age—was published in 2013.

A Lamb, Poems by P.W. Bridgman
Ekstasis Editions

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Elemental by Kate Braid

I was in a collaborative songwriting workshop, a handful of hardworking, talented individuals collectively pushing themselves as artists. My partner for this particular month (we paired with different people each month) chose to go back to her day job. Being an active musician while having a highrise office career was simply too taxing. And as a professional accountant, taxing stuff was something she knew all too well.

So there I was, midway through the workshop when my partner switched priorities. Understandable. Our mentor/coach stepped in to fill that gap, becoming my partner for the remainder of the month. Our task, to write a song. Our parameters, to involve the elements. What I love most about the resulting song we wrote was that each component of the composition was simple. With no intended pun, elemental. Rudimentary chords and lyrics crosshatched into a layered mosaic, the result startingly rich and satisfying, like experiencing those very components firsthand – fire, earth, air and water.

This poet fits exceedingly well in her west coast domain, surrounded by forests of deciduous and evergreen.

A year later, when I got my hands on Kate Braid’s Elemental, it was as though I was re-experiencing that collaboration – memories vibrant as touching a flame, plunging into water, lungfuls of needed air, and the loamy feel of freshly turned earth. This was a sensory experience beyond cracking a new book of poetry. This was something to tickle the primordial self, subconscious memories one feels, and may never acknowledge without the help of others. But Braid knows more than four elements. An adroit woodworker, this poet fits exceedingly well in her west coast domain, surrounded by forests of deciduous and evergreen. But I’m going to make you wait before revealing her bespoke fifth element (in case you haven’t figured it out).

Let’s start with a high platform dive, from Braid’s Autobiography as Water:

“Mother takes me to a chlorine-echoey box to learn the lessons of deep water … embraced into a world of green-glossed bubbles and wonder. Until teacher snatches me back to the sandpaper of breath and air.”

Immediately I feel akin to the author, recalling a plunge into blue, certain I was both drowning and exactly where I ought to be. To my surprise Kate finds another comfortably common space in Vancouver Spring:

“Soggy under a glaze of wine, / the surreal grace of grass and moss / abundant / and another wet Vancouver sky. / … another glass of wine / at the Sylvia Hotel, gazing out / at a grey beach, pedestrians with umbrellas, / black, walking, muttering, / It’s spring!”

And from gloomy mutterings of Pacific Northwest spring we find ourselves inside too much, splashing from water to jarring, fiery light in Monolith:

“Can you imagine how it feels / to be hauled from darkness / and no matter how much it aches, / to be swathed in light?”

I ache with empathy as Kate recalls a return to memory-rich space, elemental sentiments, arriving at a woodsy retreat in Opening the Cabin:

“We have come to the cabin after weeks / in the smoke of city living, climb out of the car, / crisp with caution. Peering suspiciously up at sunshine / we sniff the honey of cedar and pine.”

And with the aroma of fresh sawdust, we join our artisan in her mainstay, arguably her truest craft, working timber in The Wood Hanging (For Jude Farmer):

“[A] tree, a huge being alive / with wane and grain and history, / a Moby Dick of fallen disaster and majesty, / an up-and-down of history, a living Ark.”

Never before have I likened a falling tree to Melville’s whale. Bruce Cockburn, sure, but that’s expected in this part of the country when you’re of a certain age and unable to lay your hands on a rocket launcher.

Now our poet’s hand’s revealed – her fifth element – living bits of trunk, branch and burl Braid crafts tandem to her words. But let’s return to the rudimentary first four, and breathe, breathe in the air, with Autobiography as Sky:

“Years later I lifted into air, flew for hours between a rising moon and a setting sun — furious silver, furious red. As the two fought over the lighting of the stage and clouds changed the scenery over and over, I understood the drama of sky. At last.”

At last. I find myself wanting to know what our author knows, beyond her words. I might, but I’m uncertain, left feeling I’ve had palette-cleansing sorbet, concluding savoury verse to return to earth with a grounding cadence and satisfying alliteration in Blackberries for Jacqueline:

“After your wake, I go outside to walk.”

Maybe I do know after all, Kate sharing loss, healing, feelings elemental to humanity, the universal experience we share with trees, timber and lovingly planed lumber, crafted into furnishings and finishings, sanded, polished, lacquered, set amidst raw elements to cure, creating hope-chest heirlooms, poetry, and music we all share.


About the Author: Kate Braid worked as a receptionist, secretary, lumber piler and journey-carpenter before “settling down” to teach construction and creative writing at SFU, UBC and VIU. She is the author of the poetry books A Well-Mannered Storm, Covering Rough Ground, To This Cedar Fountain and Inward to the Bones. In her memoir Journeywoman, Braid tells the story of becoming a carpenter despite skepticism and discouragement. She was declared one of Vancouver’s Remarkable Women of the Arts and awarded the Mayor of Vancouver’s Award for the Literary Arts. She lives in Victoria and on Pender Island with her partner.

Elemental by Kate Braid
Caitlin Press

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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Homeless Memorial by John La Greca

The first twenty years of my life I lived in Vernon, BC. I had a home. Which I usually took for granted. It was where I returned most nights, save for sleepovers and one night in a jail cell, futilely scrubbing fingerprint ink like Lady Macbeth. But that’s a separate story.

I went back for a writer’s residency at Vernon’s Caetani House in grey November pre-snow where I spent a great deal of time not writing, instead strolling the gardens and my hometown, the home of once homeless poet John La Greca.

I met John at Vancouver’s Poets Corner, where he read alongside industry heavyweights to a packed room. Despite the calibre of readers, it was John who people spoke most about – a complex, compact man with outsized talent. This is the man who tended that garden at Caetani House, years ago, coaxing order and beauty from ugly patches of wildness, much like his writing. Homeless Memorial is an autobiography in poems, life on the street from the inside, weeds of grit sprouting next to humour and optimism that persevere like prize orchids.

In a creative screening room, we take our seats with Terry Gilliam’s Revenge, the author’s mental film pooled at our feet. “Striving at tricks to change shit to a valuable commodity. / I’m in a similar boat as the alchemists.”

While reality rears through dialogue in Homeless Memorial, the poem. “He said it was hard to escape the street / Because the people he knew wanted him to stay where he was.”

And laconic Don’t Look Different from the Clones shares a satisfying moment of connection. “Some six-year-old kid / Looked at me in the library. / I gave him the finger. / He smiled back at me. / I think I made his day.”

In-person, La Greca’s cinched jacket hood could be mistaken for blinders. His view, however, remains panoramic. Black and white was the only way to capture the author in a photo, his face encased in shadow. Same as his writing. Not darkened, but monochrome – refreshing barbershop poetry in a genre of coiffure salons. We know without apology when La Greca’s hungry, horny, happy, or scared. I imagine editors keen to thresh the work, which would almost certainly mute the voice. As is, we read directly from La Greca’s keen mind. Akin to music aficionados insisting on scratchy Muddy Waters LPs over remastered digital, correctly choosing authenticity over the dilution of polish.

In Sveva’s God, La Greca hears his late friend and mentor, Countess Sveva Caetani, owner of that Vernon house and garden. “If I go for a walk, I find Sveva whispering in my head.”

Which I understand, having heard her in that space, where she wrote in my hand details of her life I didn’t know until she told me posthumously. Homeless Memorial is an insightful extension of Vernon – a home, or none, unrefined and inviting as the garden La Greca tended, this green-thumbed writer with residence fluid as poetry, his verse perennial.

First published by the League of Canadian Poets

About the Author: John La Greca writes with blistering honesty and humour of a side of Okanagan culture never seen in tourist brochures. For nearly fifty years, he has been our greatest poet of the streets and for all this time he has lived with a mind given many diagnoses, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He has been in and out of care since 1967. Homeless Memorial is John’s remarkable record of a city he knows better than anyone, which he places within the context of his extensive readings of history and world society.

Homeless Memorial by John La Greca
Ekstasis Editions, 2018

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

A Blooming by Jude Neale

Written by guest poster Cynthia Sharp, this review of Jude Neale’s A Blooming, from Ekstasis Editions, 2019, was first published in Canadian Poetry Review. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

“Life, I repeat, is energy of love, divine or human,” William Wordsworth confessed. Jude Neale embodies that axiom in all that she does. A Blooming, from Ekstasis Editions, 2019, is a mesmerizing collocation of light, music and higher love that offers the reader permission to be passionate. The cover is resplendent with colour, much like the soul of her work through this striking collection. It compliments her exquisite poetry, unafraid of bright, direct colour and precise diction. In sharing her communion of experience, Neale explores the paradox of gentle strength, inviting readers to journey with her through all the ways to unveil light, to breathe the strength of who we are. The audience is carried through spirals of “Ruddy / benevolent / majesty.” The rhythmic play of alliteration and assonance unveils paradox after paradox of everyday light until we surrender to the magnificent, even in grief. It’s difficult to talk about light in concrete terms and yet Neale does this eloquently. She invites the reader into the nirvana of her words to drink in her peace like soothing honey to a scratchy throat, an ocean of reassurance and kindness.

When an opera singer composes a manuscript, the richness of music is transported into breaths of imagery, a delicate inviting rhythm, carved with precision and room to exhale. Each line is a universe in itself, grounded and strong. Diction like “requiem” and “melodious” permeates the pages. Composed between midnight and five AM, the writing reveals maturity and depth in this earth walk and beyond. Through the motif of tree and branch imagery, poems stretch in a multitude of directions, to those before, present and to come. Poems for Neale’s children and grandchildren invite the reader into compassionate ways of seeing, to nurture the profound nature of children:

“when it is so easy
to forget about
their luminous light.”

“You, my child’s child
stretched the borders
of my wonder.”

The cadence of verse suggests that the work is designed to be read aloud, with extra line breaks for proper pauses between images. Neale’s opera training directs her use of space:

“and I know I shall never
let go of this love,
that blooms
like a September sunflower.”

Each melodic line is visually accessible, washing over the reader like a painting. Neale’s economy of words is intentional, so that poems connect directly with the reader without awkwardness or unnecessary intellectualization. The result is pure heart to heart connection.

“You are on loan
to my grateful heart,”
she says in “Both of Us Must Cross.”

As the title A Blooming suggests, a flower motif is woven powerfully through the poems, as Neale makes symbols her own, elevated with added depth and personal meaning:

“you once scattered my letters,
porcelain orchids,
onto the grey circle of stones.”

She creates clear, concrete metaphors, single atoms in a vast universe, in her original combinations of specific adjectives and nouns to give an already delicate symbol like “orchids” a new shape. Every image has a unique texture, the building blocks of a Jude Neale universe. The subtle significance of symbolism is woven with her portraits of the Canadian west coast such as the moon shrouded in cloud, sea phosphorescence and mystical dragonflies. In “The Wild Rose Suite,” Neale recalls enchanting dragonflies with “iridescent blue and green wings” landing in her grandmother’s raven hair, taking readers on a meditative journey through colour and light, then ends the poem with the contrast of “…heavy white winter / when colour is the only thing / we want to believe.” The poet’s use of juxtaposition creates an engaging tension resolved in higher love, as her magic breaks open the eternal in the everyday. The whole book is a flower, exquisitely crafted. One could sit with it all spring and summer, long into autumn and be dazzled by its violet blooms through winter, digesting each line over and over. “I’m part of a glazed design / buried in the obsidian sea.” The whole rhythmic volume connects with the deep light in all.

Neale surprises readers with closing thoughts such as, “when love / was the last thing / to go.” Finishing couplets speak to the battles of lifetimes: “still needing to win / my unbridled love.” Her honesty and example of self-acceptance are a gift to anyone who’s struggled with feeling allowed to self-actualize. No matter how dark the content of a poem, her last two to three lines elevate the material and the reader with enriched understanding and compassion as she opens a new dimension of comprehension, bringing it all together, forgiven, heard, seen and remembered.

This is a poet with the courage to share her private suffering so that others may experience the healing on the other side of trauma. She has gone to the edge and beyond. She’s been deeply to depressing places. Poems like “I’m Not Waving, I’m Drowning,” allude to struggles with bipolar illness, where Neale moves through dark places and shows us the relief on the other side, so that we can hold it inside us eternally like a sunlit forest. She bravely leads the way across despondent fears into an oasis of universal light because love is all there is. She gives readers divine self-awareness, inner strength and perseverance and we hold her tangible truths and trust.

She addresses the Parkinson’s disease that took her father’s life and now afflicts her within the context of passionate love and relation in poems like “About Light,” with my favourite lines in the book:

“Bruised and broken we aren’t afraid.
We teeter onto one another’s empty stage
arms suspended like angels before the fall.”

Neale is “not afraid to hit the heart, to bypass the brain,” she said when I interviewed her and “go straight for connection.” She acknowledges the finite nature of our human lives with courageous openness to the ways of the infinite. Even death is a peaceful new beginning.

A Blooming incorporates the importance of collaboration and art influencing art, with “A Place to Call Home” inspired by Nettie Wild’s film that was projected beneath the Cambie Street bridge in Vancouver. After a shared dinner with the writer/ director, Neale dedicated a poem to her. “Paint white-silled windows / on the rooms of the homeless,” Neale writes of the artwork, in empathy with those afflicted with homelessness.

Neale’s poetic mastery is brimming with compassion and genuine love, like a sunrise through fog. Her process involves a quick initial write of images building on images, followed by a solid twenty hours of editing per poem, to “at least transform something for a moment,” she explains. The efficient writing is infused with deliberate pauses marked by white space as part of the rhythm of each poem. The most brilliant aspects of her literary landscape are the accessibility of unique, vivid imagery to capture and affirm the life experience itself, love. Each poem is edited to perfection. Lines weave together, allowing story to flow easily through well laid out symbolism with a cadence of varied line length and important line breaks suggesting that the collection is intended to be performed aloud. The book as a whole is well balanced. Even the way Neale laid out the manuscript is intuitive and musical. She placed poems on the floor, then selected them one by one from around the room as they flowed intuitively into this collection of unobstructed light.

Neale has been a poet her whole life and taught writing for thirty-five years, encouraging her students to discover their own authentic voices. She won her first CBC contest at age eight, when she described her experience travelling the interior of British Columbia by train. She continues to translate journals into poems. Mentored by Elisabeth Harvor in Toronto, a writer who received the Governor General’s award and has been published in The New Yorker, Neale’s unique gifts came forth. She continued to work with mentors such as Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose in The Writer’s Studio and Pandora’s Collective executive director Bonnie Nish, who invited Neale to her first reading over ten years ago. Neale’s titles have since been shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Award in Ireland and continue to win significant accolades in her home country of Canada and through North America.

A Blooming depicts the immediacy of a heart unafraid to embrace life, to share its wisdom in uplifting energy. The world needs this, to see what lies beyond pain, to move through it to joy in these autobiographical snapshots, to transform tragedy and allow it to bloom into the light we truly desire. It makes one yearn to leap like an angel off stage toward the unknown. Neale’s insight and understanding convince her audience to embrace existential mystery with the passion that fills every line of her work. I’ll think of Jude Neale when my time comes to transition back to earth and let her lead me into the next dimension, the way A Blooming has taught me to celebrate and trust life in all its shades. As depression lifts, as Parkinson’s disease is met with dignity, as aging is embraced in the rhythmic movement of life through generations and time, the quiet wisdom of soul resonates. A Blooming encompasses the circle of life, paradoxically celebrating birth in death as we are reborn into earth, culminating with “In the End,” where Neale brings the journey together with one delicious, vivid image, “pink glories / of a wild October rose.”

About the Author: Jude Neale is a Canadian poet, classical vocalist, spoken word performer and mentor. She has been shortlisted, highly commended and a finalist for many international and national competitions. Her book A Quiet Coming of Light, A Poetic Memoir (Leaf Press) was a finalist for the 2015 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She won publication in Britain for Splendid in its Silence (SPM publications) in 2017. In 2018, she and Bonnie Nish started an online collaboration which led them to write Cantata in Two Voices (Ekstasis Editions) in fifty challenging days. Neale recently collaborated with Thomas R.L. Beckman, the great viola voice of British Columbia, who composed the music The St. Roch Suite for the Prince George Symphony Orchestra. She is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Federation of BC Writers and the Canadian Authors Association.

About the Reviewer: Cynthia Sharp is the City of Richmond’s Writer in Residence. She’s a full member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers’ Union of Canada and on the executive of the Federation of British Columbia Writers. She’s inspired by renewal in nature in all the ways she works, as a poet, a playwright, a screenwriter, a fiction writer and an educator.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James Fisher
Original content by:: Cynthia Sharp
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Devil in the Woods: Poems by D. A. Lockhart

Publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press and poet D. A. Lockhart is A Turtle Clan member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and Devil in the Woods (2019, Brick Books) is his latest collection of poetry. Brick Books has done an admirable job of designing and packaging this volume; my review copy came with a matching bookmark and a promotional postcard with the book cover on one side and the Roll Up the Rim Prayer on the opposite side.

Roll Up the Rim Prayer

Oh Lord, that our conveyor belt
of red tail lights might burn away
the half-light of 7:00 a.m. February
mornings, receive our prayer.

Tapped and rattled out with bit-part
change of soiled cup holders, hopeful
in the gathering of many, will come
but one transaction to save us

from the despair of long winter. Lord,
deliver to us daydreams of stainless
steel barbeques, warmth of sixty-inch
flat screens, and middle-class composure

of cobalt sedans. Because free double-doubles,
bonus donuts, and potato wedge cups
tease us like bureaucratic promises of medical coverage and housing

not given to black mold and torn-
off siding. Oh Lord, let us sing anew,
in this pre-dawn light, a chorus that shall not repeat PLEASE PLAY AGAIN.

From this “prayer” you’ll get the sense of what Devil in the Woods is about and where Mr. Lockhart is coming from. It is one of the most imaginative and yet very accessible poetry works I have come across in my 2019/2020 reading year. Besides these “prayers”, there are letters from a certain “J.W.” to various and prominent settler Canadians, past and present such as Don Cherry, Lord Beaverbrook, Sarah Polley, Bruno Gerussi, and Laura Secord, just to name a few. From there, Mr. Lockhart not only imparts to the reader some Canadian history (I had to look up a few of the names) but always from the perspective of an Indigenous person. Here’s an excerpt from “Letter to Cherry from Denis Crowfeather’s Garage at Curve Lake” (written before the demise of Coach’s Corner):

Dear Don: It’s been some time since last time
we saw eye to eye on anything. Maybe it goes all the way back to big paycheques and Rocky
Mountain highs, maybe it’s locked up in that golden eagle strut of your pow wow—infused
fancy dancing outfits showcased coast-to-coast Saturday nights. Every eyeball-busting thread
makes me understand that most all of us share
the need to strut the goods that Creator gave us as we turkey-step our lives on the old turtle’s back.

Mr. Lockhart’s irreverent humour is constructed around all-too-real grains of truth, so there’s always a bit of melancholy as J.W. writes to the settler Canadian in question.

I really enjoy this type of poetry, for it is not only accessible but enlightening, too, as there is much to gain from the Indigenous perspective via the written word.

Five stars for an excellent, inspired collection of prayers and letters from D. A. Lockhart. I am adding it to the 2020 longlist for Best Poetry.

“Rock-solid … full of heartfelt grit and conviction. D.A. Lockhart conjures the world through a catalogue of vivid particulars and a cast of inimitable characters….This is poetry that follows the ‘right crooked path’ through ‘the medicine smoke of history.’” —Campbell McGrath

Devil in the Woods by D.A. Lockhart
Brick Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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Acknowledgements: Excerpts © D.A. LOCKHART
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Inquiries: Poems by Michelle Porter

Michelle Porter is a Red River Métis poet, journalist, and editor. She holds degrees in journalism, folklore, and geography (Ph.D.). She currently lives in St. John’s Newfoundland. Inquiries is the debut collection of her poems.

I’m assuming that the book’s title is tied to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The poems within Inquiries are all tied together taking a hard look at the hardscrabble life of a Métis woman and her children eking out an existence near the Red River (and sometimes in NL), moving when the rent cannot be paid, leaving memories and items behind (a dollhouse that wouldn’t fit in the station wagon, gym sneakers left in a school locker). “What you leave behind never stays where you left it.” (from Leaving Calgary)

Some of the poems have places and dates for titles as if recalling them from memory (and not always pleasant ones at that), such as Whiteway Street, 2008:

All she ever says about it is she rented
the place by phone before they ever got

to the city. Never fought anyone before, not
like that. Did it for her kids. Swore

she’d call the health inspectors,
threatened til the landlord let her off the

lease. Knew she had him by the balls.

The most evocative poems are the sixteen instalments of “Mama’s Kitchens” in which the kitchen “can’t stop talking” about all the things it sees and hears. As the kitchen seems to be the centre of activity in the house it sees and hears a lot.

“…the kitchen can’t stop talking about its one window, retelling legends about/a tree, spinning tales to the picnic table and the tall wooden fence/gossiping about the neighbours who pray on the right side and about their steel sink.”

Ms. Porter excels at evoking the starkness of the family’s situation in this excerpt from The Joints of the Stories: Mama’s Kitchens II:

The kitchen cupboard
near bare,
the fiddle on the chair,
the outhouse over there,

the sewing machine in the corner,
the woodstove a hibernating
bear, and seven half-breed

brothers and sisters who’ve misplaced
the stories created to save them.

Then, as a change, Ms. Porter gives us Manolis L Off Duck Island, Notre Dame about the shipwreck of the Manolis L in 1985 off the Change Islands in 300ft. of water. The ship was full of fuel oil, the bulk of which was not safely removed until 2018. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s this cofferdam between us and disaster. Eight tanks
of oil in a wreck in the North Atlantic. Lord—the hull is cracked

and it’s leaking faster. Sweet Jesus, we can apply neoprene
plaster. We can drop sand bags over every leak and nick, but

there’s only a cofferdam between us and disaster.

All in all, Inquiries is an example of the power of a poet’s pen. How they can distill and summarize emotions, places and events into a few sentences amazes me and always will. I’m adding Inquiries to the Best Poetry category for the 2020 “The Very Best!” Book Awards.

“Sharp-edged, beautiful, poignant, funny, and rich with love.” – Lee Maracle

Inquiries by Michelle Porter
Breakwater Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (also available as an eBook) through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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Learning to Settle Down by Chad Norman

Chad Norman lives and works in Truro, Nova Scotia and Learning to Settle Down (2015, Black Moss Press) is his sixteenth published book of poetry. This was my first experience reading Mr. Norman’s poems and the impression I received after reading through them is his attention to the small things that surround us, so the title is most apropos.

From “Frost on a Fingernail” to “String on a Finger” to “Keeping Perfection Attainable” these are the poems of a man taking in the little day to day things and noting them in the way poets do.

One of my favourite poems was “A Symphony of Creaks” which has the postscript “written while walking home Feb 5/10.”

Rising, shift over,
walking out of,
stepping up the stairs
which bring him
up from the job
into a temperature
gone down in a day,
down to degrees
brought to the water
which will cause ice, a freeze
the wind is responsible for,
as he steps toward
the walk into trees,
a wind only branches know
as he steps upon white inches,
into streets where most waken,
into streets the houses protect,
away from the music of flakes,
a late season, away from
what he wants, some kind of symphony, yes, a Beethoven
of creaks, the trees playing
like keys, a symphony of creaks.

In keeping with the changing of seasons, there is “Summer Going Somewhere” which mentions “the lawn’s/dry unmown/blades of grass” and “When Night Gives Way to Morning” about kissing “the face of a sunflower/after an evening of frost.” Very evocative imagery, especially as I write this, summer is indeed “going somewhere” and there is a touch of frost these mornings.

I enjoyed reading all the poems in Learning to Settle Down and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Norman’s work soon.

Learning to Settle down by Chad Norman
Black Moss Press

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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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

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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Cold Fire: Selected Poetry by Donna Allard

For too long, the poetry genre has been overlooked here at The Miramichi Reader. It’s not because I don’t like poetry, I do, but to actually review it? I didn’t know if I had the ability to say if the poetry I was reading was good or bad. Is there even such a thing as bad poetry? Like any art form, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or the reader).

However, I knew the day would come when some poet would ask why I didn’t review poetry. Well, that day came a few weeks ago on The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award Facebook page:

Yes, that is New Brunswick’s Donna Allard, the 2019-2020 International Beat Poet Laureate. A voice I couldn’t well ignore. She assured me: “I write in the people’s poet format… so it is easy to read, and easy to read between the lines.” That sounded easy enough, so I obtained from her a copy of Cold Fire: Selected Poetry (2019 Sky Wing Press). I was impressed right away by the cover photo (by Jinn Bug) of a lone red leaf with ice along its edges. It would prove to be evocative of many of the fifty-one poems in this slim volume, including “red leaf” (which is dedicated to Jinn):

you are not
you are cherished
like a leaf
within the pages
of my heart

Many of the poems deal with death: the loss of a loved one and the emptiness that death leaves the survivor with. Some, like “the essential other” are set in a cemetery:

there are many sweet flowers
and many stones in this garden;
the taller ones named by its dead

a crown of thorns lay hidden
beneath freshly fallen fruit
during autumn’s wind

the desire for grace is long gone,
the last rose of the season
shatters under a warm touch

Prophets’ words are captive
slaves to otherworldly gods

on a still winter’s night
the whisperings of imagination
succumb to frost

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Ms. Allard presents us with “shoot the pen not the poet” in which she angrily states:

This is who I am: a poet when I write but an uncivil
servant when I don’t. This ink is my bloodline. I have
no other children, just this, so these pages are the
truth as I know it to be. The truth often lies.

Strong stuff! The poems in Cold Fire are full of great visuals too, my favourite line being: “I am deep in thought like an ice cube half-dissolved in whisky.” (From “strolling the blues”)

As she assured me, her poems are easy to read, but the fun lies in reading between the lines. For an initial foray into the vast world of contemporary beat poetry, I couldn’t do better than Cold Fire. I will add a Poetry category to the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards and put Cold Fire there. You can read an interview by Allan Hudson with Donna Allard here at the South Branch Scribbler. Donna Allard’s books can be purchased through her website here:

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Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan Edited by Brian Bartlett

The following is from a Goose Lane news release and is provided for informational purposes.

A major publication celebrating the work of one of Canada’s most renowned poets.
Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) once wrote of a desire to leave behind “one poem, one story / that will tell what it was like / to be alive.” In an abundance of memorable poems, he fulfilled this desire with candour and subtlety, emotion and humour, sympathy and truth-telling. Plainspoken yet profound, Nowlan has long been one of Canada’s most beloved poets, but only now is the true range of his poetic achievement is finally available between two covers, with the publication of Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan.

The long-awaited Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan enables readers to experience his poetic genius in its fullness and uniqueness.

A poet of contrasts, Nowlan brings opposing language, tone, theme, and imagery together, giving each poem a weight and significance beyond the simplicity at its surface. Nowlan takes us from nightmarish precincts of fear and solitude to the embrace of friendship and family. Delving into experiences of violence and gentleness, of alienation and love, his poetry reveals our shared humanity as well as our perplexing and sometimes entertaining differences.

Nowlan’s varied use of the poetic line – his handling of line-lengths and –breaks, stanzas, and pauses – show him to be a writer who skillfully used the page to suggest and embody rhythms of speech. An essential poetry collection that speaks to the ear and soul, the long-awaited Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan enables readers to experience his poetic genius in its fullness and uniqueness.

About the Author:

ALDEN NOWLAN is widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible voices to emerge in Canadian poetry. Born in Nova Scotia in 1933, Nowlan moved to Hartland, New Brunswick, when he was nineteen, where he was a reporter, editor, and general facilitator of the Hartland Observer. In 1963 Nowlan went to the Telegraph Journal where he worked as a reporter, night news editor, and subsequently a weekly columnist. Publishing his first book of poetry, The Rose and the Puritan, in 1958, with Fiddlehead Poetry Books (the precursor to Goose Lane Editions), he went on to write poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and stage and television plays. He was Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick from 1968 until his death in June 1983. Over his lifetime he won numerous awards and accolades including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (Bread, Wine and Salt), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two honorary degrees.

About the Editor:

Brian Bartlett has published many books of poetry and non-fiction, including The Watchmaker’s Table, Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar, and Wanting the Day: Selected Poems. He teaches creative writing at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS.