If you knew you were dying, how would you choose to go? What if someone you knew was dying?
What if you were simply losing each other by losing your memories? How would that remake you, them and your relationship?
Carolyn Gammon takes us through how it happens for her and her mother, talks about how “our remembered lives disintegrate quiet smouldering edge paper slowly consumed” and how she learns “to speak in maybes”. How she realizes she may not stay a daughter but can stay a warm hand.
Sending Me Home talks of the four a.m. fear of existential dread, shared through the phone. Carolyn attempts to hold the fear at bay while her mother on the other end of the line, banters and resigns herself to it, wishing she was a nearer mother and not a further mother. In the morgue, her mother forgets her husband has passed and despite herself, Carolyn reminds her at once cruelly before realizing she doesn’t want to know.
The author talks about feeling stretched between her new home and Canada, her mother and her son and how she balances it all on her own.
A love poem for your ninetieth year is wonderfully written of one of the most magical childhoods I’ve ever heard of. Love and caring and heartfelt moments of being caught when falling and someone there when called.
The author calls her mother Lazarus when, at the eleventh hour, they take her off morphine and she suddenly recovers from deaths’ door. A new nurse comes in and tears apart the medical plan, noting the amount of drugs was just cushioning her where it wasn’t needed.
The book explores how full of life her mother is despite broken arms and a gashed head, following a little plastic biker toy down the halls in the hospital, tricking a visiting pastor with ventriloquism and writing letters to her father pretending she’s gone travelling. There’s talk of Gammon jokes and the memories of the Grand Lake cottage, Pauline and Kay and Betty, Ollie Sharpe on respite, bike rides and visits on the Green, reciting Longfellow until it’s time to go because it’s always time to go in a nursing home.
It is not easy learning how to die. Carolyn wishes she could give a lecture on dementia and how it isn’t one or the other, but both and even if her mother doesn’t remember her, Carolyn remembers.
Life is so beautiful on a bed under a blanket. Rest in peace, Frances Firth Gammon, founding member of the Fiddlehead.
This is a heady treasure of a book- it’ll leave your heart heavy, a lump in your through and silver at the corners of your eyes.
About the Author
Carolyn Gammon has been widely anthologized across Canada, the United States and Europe, and she is the author of Lesbians Ignited (Gynergy/Ragweed, 1992), Johanna Krause Twice Persecuted: Surviving in Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007) and The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger (WLU Press, 2014). She was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her parents, Frances (Firth) Gammon and Donald Gammon co-founded the Fiddlehead magazine at the University of New Brunswick. Carolyn Gammon lives in Berlin, Germany.
Characterized by the admission of doubt in God’s desire for a better world, and willingness to see Jewish tradition as indispensable, Brought Down by Simon Constam struggles with daily life as a firm believer and continuing pride in Jewish identity. In the great Jewish tradition of holding God to account, and not relenting in anger towards Him, the themes in this book are universal: faith, religious practice, forgiveness, history, and the relevance of belief.
As idly as she possibly can, she asks
where we’ll be buried. She says we ought to,
as a couple, even past the end, stay married.
But her long-dead first husband she already has
placed in primary honour in the family plot,
his name is raised on the gravestone.
What place might I take there and which one not?
Perhaps I ought to be in a nearby grave alone.
Or should I think about a Jewish cemetery somewhere?
She could remain with her once and greater love.
I am not jealous of a presumed hereafter.
But oh, what will my children, when they learn of this, be thinking of?
Alas, she and I, on another matter, we’re also in disarray
as she favours cremation and I favour decay.
About the Author
Simon Constam is a poet and an aphorist. His poems have been published in various magazines, among them The Jewish Literary Journal, Poetica, and the Dark Poetry Club. He has published a new, original aphorism under the moniker Daily Ferocity on Instagram, daily for almost three years. He also has a regular aphorism column at The Miramichi Reader, Weekly Ferocity.
Wayde Compton’s 1999 poetry collection 49th Parallel Psalm, from Arsenal Pulp Press’s Advanced Editions, reprinted in 2005, is a mystical, comprehensive hundred and seventy-five-page poetic response to a hundred and fifty years of recent black migration from San Francisco to British Columbia. Compton has been described by acclaimed Canadian writer George Bowering as “our own DJ historian arrived at last,” and wrapped in psalm, his musical rhythms play out profoundly as he brings to life the echoes of lost voices in a lyrical anthem of crossing the border to Canada, to different encounters with racism, struggles and triumphs, placing daily experiences of often unseen, untold narratives more prominently in collective memory.
Psalm is a well-chosen encompassing metaphor for the journey of people who “arrived singing,” with its connotations of devotion and trust through human suffering for rights, a sacred song of empowerment in surrender to divinity. The lyrical and spiritual nature of psalms naturally evokes the presence of life force, emphasizing voice, a perfect shape for the diverse elements woven through the book. In this way, Compton unifies a wide variety of literary styles from prose to visual pieces through subject matter and theme, allowing readers to witness Vancouver through the eyes of travellers from a century ago as though it was just yesterday that they crossed “the tines of the Narrows, the Lion’s Gate/ Bridge,” (21) played in streets and escaped racism south of the border, only to be met with more racism as they migrated through the province, with the capital, Victoria, still having a segregated theatre, and prejudice and the strangeness of a new land prevalent everywhere.
While every literary style Compton employs brings the issue of racism and need for true freedom to the table in a memorable manner, from the use of the whole page in poetry layout in places to visual symbols like black hearts and aces dissolving to empty boxes as he writes about the lucky black lady in cards disappearing from view in “Facing the Blues” (114), to a prose fairy tale centre and left-aligned pieces in other sections, it’s his overall lyricism within a remarkable construction and deconstruction of symbolism that I most enjoyed. “Red Light Blues” (146) really struck me in the thematic way that it captures the essence of this tremendous body of work, a synecdoche for the chronicle. The poem interacts with traffic signs from the perspective of black citizens being told no over and over in red, the colour of blood, discusses the dotted white man who decides when citizens may walk, addresses the imposition of national borders on human freedom, the physical construction of segregation making solidarity difficult and there being no place in the formula for those of mixed race, through the layers of symbolism in “tracks that cut you off from other sides,” moves to the weariness of always being denied with these unbreakable looking signs, “you could wait a thousand years,/ a glacier’s day,/ for the dotted lines/ to sign your right/ of way. the right passage/ of entrance in/ to the right terrain,” yet expands to end paradoxically in both hope and entropy with regard to the way the last phrases change from left aligned to more deeply indented tabs spread further across the page as he speaks of mixed race people and those in pursuit of crossing, “allegedly/ shelved/ on the beams/ of the aurora/ borealis.” Aurora borealis is both a stand-alone image and a reference to magic realist earlier prose featuring the character Lacuna (a symbolically fitting name, also a literary term for a missing part) at “The Festivals of the Aurora Borealis” in “The Blue Road” fairy tale section, a story filled with wonder, vision and the ethereal quality of dreams (96-99). “Red Light Blues” is one of many of Compton’s clever, playful, heartfelt, poems filled with sorrow, honesty and yearning in a collection that is in many ways a masterpiece in terms of repeated themes and diction building on and recalling previous poems and motifs with layers of depth, the psalm uniting all, widening readers’ understanding of racism in historical and contemporary Canada, while most importantly delivering a captivating, imaginative, entertaining story.
Like Compton, 49th Parallel Psalm is intelligent, creative and unafraid of complexity. The literature brings to life snippets of clear moments of people from a century ago, from children playing jump rope to adults dealing cards in an enticing, present way, the blend of fiction and fact creating magic. Through the poems, ancestors are alive and breathing in a way that a textbook alone doesn’t always capture, everyday racism, unique characters and spiritual joy. Compton ends with an interesting play on the word “red” that appears in earlier poems as well, to harmonize with the biblical quotes and references throughout, “I imagine/ borders giving way just the same/ as a read sea…the breath we draw before the next line/ is singing” (173). Compton’s narratives in psalm, a blend of history and empathy, offer a means for readers to listen, understand and respond to the paramount need to deconstruct racism. From a perspective of twenty-first-century humanitarian writing, 49th Parallel Psalm portrays how lyricism and poetry contribute to social justice, that we can combine our passion for an equitable society with our love of creativity, that there’s room for poetic responses to important issues as a form of calling and service with all the fantastical elements that literature embodies. Like Compton’s characters limboing under rainbows in the dissolution of borders, we too can offer our dreaming as concrete forms of peace.
About the Author
Wayde Compton is the author of two books of poetry, 49th Parallel Psalm (Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalist) and Performance Bond. He also edited the anthology Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature. His non-fiction book After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and his first work of fiction, The Outer Harbour, won the City of Vancouver Book Award. His latest book is the YA graphic novel The Blue Road, illustrated by April dela Noche Milne. Wayde is the former director of the Writer’s Studio and the Southbank Writer’s Program at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies. He currently teaches in the faculty of Creative Writing at Douglas College. He lives in Vancouver.
Publisher : Arsenal Pulp Press; First Edition (April 1 1999)
We are all familiar with the Newfoundland and Labrador tourism ads that flash across our television screens every Spring; loaves of Nan’s homemade bread cooling on the kitchen table while, just outside the window, colourful quilts dance in the warm breeze against a backdrop of the cool Atlantic Ocean slapping happily against million-year-old granite. The sun is shining, the grass is a brilliant hue of green and Skipper up the road is on the front bridge tapping his toe to the fiddle. A 40-minute drive “up the shore” or “past the overpass” will confirm that our Irish and English ancestry is still very much alive as evidenced in our dialect, friendliness, and Friday night kitchen parties. This is what we are famous for. This life is what tourists pay to experience. But Newfoundland and Labrador is so much more than just codfish, colourful houses, and George Street. Land of Many Shoresedited by Ainsley Hawthorn and published by Breakwater Books is a personal glimpse into the lives of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; citizens whose identities and viewpoints have been misconstrued, neglected or underrepresented. It is a true celebration of the diverse population that inhabits our land.
Land of Many Shores is an anthology of poetry, essays and short narratives written by 24 authors who call, or have called Newfoundland and Labrador home. Through their own words, they paint a portrait of their lived experience as Indigenous people and as people living with physical or mental disabilities. Their stories examine the importance and need for community and culture as marginalized and underrepresented peoples. As workers in the sex industry and as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community these authors explore the heartbreak of being misunderstood and the resilience required to survive. Yet other authors offer praise for the character that the Newfoundland people have become famous for but lament feeling left out of the “proverbial wolf pack”. The narratives are wonderfully written, offering unique perspectives while at the same time broaching the elephant in the room; who do we want to become?
Newfoundland taught me to be proud of who I am and where I come from. Not to feel the need to assimilate to others and maintain the status quo. It also showed me that by being myself, I could create the best connections with people. Connections based on authenticity and sincerity, instead of the fear and ignorance that can prevail when people see each other as anonymous members of large groups instead of individuals.
From Salaam B’y ~ A Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander by Aatif Baskanderi
Land of Many Shores ~ Perspectives From A Diverse Newfoundland and Labradoris a deeply personal and thought-provoking read. Each story provided a source of reflection and caused me to question my own lived experience as a Newfoundlander. Throughout the anthology, I found myself constantly questioning my own thoughts and belief systems about the Newfoundland culture, those of the community that I identify with and those of the larger populace. Some of the stories baffled me, others touched me deeply, and others saddened and angered me. I have come to realize that “our” traditional story as the ancestors of Irish and English settlers is important and we must celebrate and hang on to that history but our story continues to be written…it is not stuck in time.
Some of us play the accordion, step dance, and eat Jiggs’ Dinner. Others play the qilaut, dance salsa, or eat shawarma. Some of us roll down Broadway in our wheelchairs instead of strolling on foot. Some of us go to work in the sex trade instead of in an office in Atlantic Place. All of these experiences make us who we are as a people. To dismiss them is to erase the richness of our culture, to discount our collective wisdom, and to alienate members of our own communities. To dismiss these experiences is to impoverish ourselves.
From Mapping A Diverse Newfoundland and Labrador by Ainsley Hawthorn
About the Author
Ainsley Hawthorn, Ph.D., (she/her) is a cultural historian, author, and multidisciplinary artist. Raised in Steady Brook, NL, and now based in St. John’s, she earned her doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University. Her expertise includes sensory studies, Mesopotamian literature and religion, Middle Eastern dance, and the history of language. Hawthorn is a past fellow of Distant Worlds (Munich) and the Advanced Seminar in the Humanities (Venice), and she has been invited to lecture on her research at universities in Germany, Austria, Italy, Canada, and the United States. Hawthorn is passionate about using her academic knowledge to bring new ideas about culture, history, and religion to a general audience. As a public scholar, she blogs for Psychology Today, writes for CBC, and has contributed to various other publications, including The Globe and Mail, the National Post, and the Newfoundland Quarterly. She is currently completing her first solo-authored non-fiction book, The Other Five Senses.
I keep reading and re-reading “Blue” wanting to live briefly in the world that Thornton has created. The speaker addresses someone who has taught them “a new word for water” (3). The language and rhythm take on the aspect of waves rolling onto a desolate shore. As the speaker learns the language of this space, he unlearns fundamental aspects of the way he has previously seen the world. They are left with a profound openness and unknowingness. In fact, the word blue comes to take on this sense of uncertainty, and it propels the speaker through this journey into disintegration and rebirth. When I read and re-read “Blue”, I feel as though I am the speaker on this shore, that language of Thornton’s poem rolling over me like blue waves.
Another charming aspect of Thornton’s work is that he has this magical ability to infuse the personal with the mystical. “Greek Fire” is particularly interesting for the way it fuses history and myth and desire. Thornton writes, “History says there was once an incendiary weapon—/a fire that ignited on contact with water and burned on water” (4-5). He builds intrigue with this initial story—one of history’s great curiosities. But it becomes far more intriguing when the fire takes on a metaphorical aspect to overwrite a fleeting romantic encounter that the speaker has had: “and if the burning of water of a story/ is love freed from time, then we were two enemies/ allowed to kiss forever within a moment, and the formula lost” (25-27). The closing tercet wraps up the poem with a satisfying metaphorical flourish. In a lesser poet’s hands, this image might seem hyperbolic, but with Thornton, it works beautifully. I might not read it again and again as I have with “Blue”, but it has stayed with me long afterwards.
These are just a few samples from Answer to Blue. Much of the work leans toward the personal and the confessional. There are some compelling moments where the pandemic pops into a few of the poems, and one can’t help but wonder how such gestures will read in the years to come when COVID-19 has hopefully passed. Will they be haunting reminders, or will they be jarring distractions? My hope is that, for those of us who have been living through the pandemic, they will be a surprise—that we will have forgotten about the years of living with masks over our faces and constantly scrubbing our hands. I am not sure, but I am certain that I can fully recommend Answer to Blue as an engaging, immersive collection of poems that transports and mystifies.
About the Author
Russell Thornton’s collection The Hundred Lives (Quattro Books, 2014) was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. His Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2013) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, the Raymond Souster Award and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. His other titles include The Fifth Window (Thistledown Press, 2000), A Tunisian Notebook (Seraphim Editions, 2002), House Built of Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2003; shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the ReLit Award for poetry), The Human Shore and The Broken Face (Harbour Publishing, 2006 and 2018). His most recent collection is Answer to Blue (Harbour Publishing, 2021). Thornton’s poetry has appeared in several anthologies and as part of BC’s Poetry in Transit. He lives in North Vancouver, BC.
Tangled and Cleft is a subterfuge of hidden and double and triple meanings paired with a half glass of cool, dark bitter beer on the table beside you.
Matt Robinson’s poems make you stop and ask yourself if you’re sure you know what that word means until you find yourself rummaging for a dictionary. In fact, I strongly suggest it for the first of the collection’s poem against the dog’s passing, where Robinson does his damndest to describe all the different indescribable ways loss can feel after.
I read the poem Against the New Year’s Day Hangover shortly after the New Year much to my amusement. The new year does indeed feel weaponized, tenuous rhetoric pugnaciously weighing the pros and cons of the eyes’ newfound, ad hoc focus on what passes for promise.
The verses from Robinson delight me as he finds new ways to describe old things, twisting and turning and subverting meaning until that simple moment in a day contains multitudes, like how a once-connected thumb was dislocated and now aches.
Cat made me laugh at how well-described the antics of a feline could be, and how their “zoomies” and bloodthirst produce a lot of organic waste to dispose of.
The magic in these poems is how Robinson takes one moment or one feeling and breaks it down into everything encompassing that moment. In “Marriage”, the scowl on his face when he realizes his partner has left coffee pods on the counter in his way and all he wants is a chicken sandwich while he “forgets” all his own bad habits with keeping things clean and then also somehow yearning for her when she quietly moves from one room to another, yawning and humming.
Some of the poems take you right into the things that you don’t want to examine too much. Against the goddamn MCL made me all too aware of my own sore knee, much more aware of how it would feel to be an athlete done in by poor scaffolding. Nostalgia talks about the taste in the back of your throat when viewing a relationship back in its beginning and what’s still left to ruin.
Many of Robinson’s poems are against something, whether it’s a Zamboni or nostalgia or the AR-15 or the New Years Day hangover, but even in that language, you have to really think if he’s against the moment or if he’s fighting against it, or if he’s leaning against the moment as if leaning into memory and describing what he finds.
Against Ending was written for Gord Downie, which the poet remembers as the final concert and encore then eventual silence. I remember Gord Downie swearing loudly, his rage and fear bursting out all at once. The kindest thing Robinson could have given me as a poet is the reminder of the encore sending Downie away.
About the Author
Matt Robinson previously published five full-length poetry collections, including Some Nights It’s Entertainment; Some Other Nights Just Work (2016), as well as numerous chapbooks. Robinson has won the Grain Prose Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney Award and The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, among others. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his family.
The poems in Mary Germaine’s debut collection Congratulations, Rhododendrons are tender and fierce, jaunty and solemn, deliberate and sassy. She writes about everyday moments, from the routine of catching an early morning bus under a still night sky, to the strange aloneness that follows you through an empty mall after hours. The imagery is rich; be it a hummingbird or a plastic bag, Germaine uses these images to capture life’s unspoken tensions and speak of deeper truths.
The poet is a master at creating a lyrical line. Words drip together with such decadence they beg to be read and savoured aloud. Exhibit A from the poem “Happily” in which the world is ripe for renewal: “someone was unswallowing a stone.” Or from “Scene Study” where Germaine peels back a layer to reveal something… more authentic:
Sometimes a glob of mustard
is just resting on a man’s golf shirt
and a commuter manoeuvers
drinking around a Starbucks stir stick.
as much as it can.
The poet’s use of language is lush but precise, buttery, and sharp.
Some cheekiness shines through as many of Germaine’s poems become extensions of their titles. Case in point, “The Reception” begins (or continues) as:
in the church basement
a shred of lettuce limps in the Miracle Whip
Wonder Bread sops the pickle juice
someone chewed the entire circumference
of her Styrofoam coffee cup
but left the coffee and the continents of creamer floating in it.
Likewise, the title “Lines from Inside a Cage of Bees Which Are Not in Fact Bees Because All the Bees Are Dead Forever and Who Let That Happen Hey” is suggestive of a secret joke the poet wants to share with the reader.
This collection is participatory; with each passing poem, the reader is invited into a deeper conversation. Germaine is uniquely able to show the world as it is, without malice or judgement. She wrestles with questions of God, of simplicity and happiness, and of justice, but without being preachy. She simply strips away the film and invites the reader to observe the mundane anew. These poems are haunting, challenging, and full of wit. Mary Germaine is a powerhouse and Congratulations, Rhododendrons will shake you up and break your heart in all the best ways.
About the Author
MARY GERMAINE is a poet, an educator, and a Ph.D. student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Her poems have appeared inThe Walrus Magazine, Riddle Fence, the ArtSci Effect, and Augur Magazine. She was the recipient of the Adam Penn Gilders Scholarship for Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and the Heaslip Award from Memorial University. Her special talents include finding lost items and having a face that reminds people of someone else they know.
Publisher : House of Anansi Press (April 6 2021)
Lucas Crawford’s Belated Bris of the Brainsickis a sharp exploration of the search for happiness and selfhood. Crawford navigates a forgotten/lost Jewish identity. As a post-Catholic, Alberta-bound Newfoundlander and queer-identified person struggling with mental illness, the poet seeks to make space for belonging.
The opening poem entitled “Pick your Poison, Or, ‘Agency’” sets the tone. With competing options like “toy boat or bath beads? / This shirt or that? Frat or sorority? / Getting fresh or canned?” the poet conveys a vast and varied sense of conflict and confusion. The root? A lost and forgotten ancestry addressed in “Becoming Mischling of the Second Degree on Suicidal Christmas” crystalizes an innate unmooring:
At the bank trading papyrus bonds
jaundiced babies point to me.
I’m mischling of the second degree
which means I’m not, legally, blond.
Confusion and disconnection are often couched within tongue-in-cheek humour, creating dissonance and inviting the reader into a growing sense of inner turmoil. Take, for example, “Pioneers” in which Crawford writes: “I am the first transgender person IN THE WORLD to fart in this seldom-used service elevator while standing on one foot rubbing my belly and tapping my head.” But the pain is palpable. From “Injury” in which the poet writes: “This is / not a metaphor. This is not a riddle. I am dying // inside and they’re going to peel open my middle.” To “Hospitals,” where Crawford flips reality to expose its raw underbelly:
Please, sir, tell me how your egg sandwich
tastes after you’ve strapped down a teen,
put her in a place while she screams
that this is just like her last rape.
Still, Belated Bris isn’t all hurt. As Crawford points out in “Potential Stops on Our Maritime Book Tour,” the body yearns for otherness, “Just let me be gorgeous trash, here, / and there, and there, with you.” The poet is clear, there is hope—there is love, fragile though it may be, and the latter poems progress with tender trepidation. Crawford is hopeful in the glow of something new as evidenced in the final poem “Conjunction Tutorial”:
AS SOON as I saw you
in your sleeveless black dress, I thought about
depression clothes. I thought about so many people
from our pasts, our own failures. Then I realized
the extent to which people go in order to not reflect.
Then I called you. Then I put on my prink party suit.
This collection is raw and vulnerable and full of heart.
About the Author
Lucas Crawford, born in Halifax and raised in rural Nova Scotia, is a poet and assistant professor of English literature at the University of New Brunswick. Crawford has published three books, including Sideshow Concessions (Invisible Publishing, 2015), which won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, and Transgender Architectonics (a scholarly monograph). Crawford lives in Fredericton, NB.
The first-read takeaway is the content, not form: some people lose the parenting lottery. An addict mother that is creepy and egocentric. A trial of a wife so much so that even the husband doesn’t want her ashes. And yet the title takes the blame, that being subject to abuse, one fails as a daughter. It is not called Antonyms for Motherfrom the mother not being in a position to provide the support and care for an upbringing. Certainly being the adult in the parent-child relationship to one’s emotionally-manipulative parent makes for a tangle of feelings, of ever-extending responsibility in a way that doesn’t happen when the parent is physically ill.
The poems are a mind divided against itself, a tension between what is and what could have been. This duality is life and yet feels like death “I sever one in half. you say the worm is just fine;/each half will grow into a new hole, two hearts,/as though the inevitable will always be denied.” (p. 30) Analogously in my life, the guilt of farming when my uncle and cousin insisted that snakes cut in half by baling machines can continue living. Mystic thinking assuages culpability. It’s a coping strategy. Any coping strategy is a port in a storm.
This sense of culpability and helplessness for another life that can’t be shaken runs through the book. One can’t get away and can’t fix the mother. You want to protect self and the other which is a mutually exclusive aim when the other is bent on self-harm. As in any abusive relationship, romantic or familiar there is a mixing of good memories, of in this case, gardening together. The plants become a synecdoche for the mother, “p, 37 “you promised me/ that a plant returned/to the sill/after many dark months//will eventually bend/ towards the light” Heartbreakingly the light is elusive and calls are hard.
The recurrent word antonym acts as signal of recognition of distortion from the ideal. “Antonyms for inheritance” (p. 45) is wanting the mother to be a lesson not an example. “Antonym of Lullaby” is rancour keeps you awake. A child needs acceptance more than corrective judgement. I can certainly relate to mother chastising fatness, being unladylike, not doing female right. It’s a shitty situation and once the mother is gone, how to rewrite except by yourself in poetry.
it’s not always graspable, as Boychuk puts in “After we fight about suicide” (p. 20) when a retreat into the forest’s fog, easily understood as brain fog distorting the mind with “the neck of the woods//caught in a loose noose”. How to reconcile sense to behaviour that doesn’t look sustainable yet is sustained for decades nonetheless? (p. 24) “despite the fistfuls/of pills she chases/with spills of vodka.// it seems death has never/really wanted her”. That middle land of not recovered, not succumbed “What horrific joy”.
Sections III and IV are the healing journey after the parent’s death. The person wonders by nature or by nurture, will I echo this life path? Can it be avoided? On p. 68 particularly struck me as my mother prided the photos of her and I at the same age looking as the same person,
In a drawer there’s a photo
of my mother looking
exactly like me. In a drawer
there’s a photo of me looking
older than I can imagine.
With generational trauma, it’s hard to know how to pick the locks of epigenetic expression. The Yoga instructor says” (p. 57) “Find the space in your body/where no storm has hit, and the trees//are still standing”. Each generation has to plant the saplings felled before their lifetime and perhaps largely for the benefit of the generation afterwards who will seek shade. It seems regrowing the forest of resiliency takes decades. In the safety of no further external attacks, there’s room to process the depression and grief, the new understory that wishes to grow strong and green. The book itself ends on a hopeful and self-assured note that after all these storms, there is life.
The title gets a second interpretation, that the writer will be make a daughter for whom the word daughter is the antonymy of what she experienced to be “daughter”. A good book for many people who can relate to such an upbringing and for those who were privileged with a healthy home life.
About the Author
Jenny Boychuk was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Walrus, CBC Books, Best New Poets 2016, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead,, Grain, The New Quarterly, PRISM international, among other publications. In 2018, she won the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize in Poetry. She is also the winner of the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Diana Hope Tegenkamp’s debut poetry collection Girl running is a broad-ranging effort that includes ruminations on loss, leaving, and acceptance and spans past, present, and future. The collection is enjoyable for its sensitive and subtle handling of themes like grief and dying, as well as its vivid language and imagery.
Many of Tegenkamp’s poems revolve around family relationships, particularly mother-daughter, although some poems deal with other family members. Several of the poems, including “Little Winters,” deal with Tegenkamp’s mother’s terminal illness:
in my mother's left cancer eye,
a wind-tossed sea.
Despite what might, in other hands, be gloomy topics—for example, illness and acceptance of the inevitable—many of the poems convey a sense of lightness and optimism. For example, the poem “Clouds” contains the lines:
Today’s sky is grey and blue, why speak
to the dead? Let them return in dreams
if they must. This morning, go down to the river.
Touch the tree trunks and tell the clouds:
I see you.
The natural world plays a role in many of the poems, as in “Naming,”:
Raven floats oceanic in the sky, glistening wave
of black wings, now strangely mammoth, stationary
on the low branch outside the window.
The collection is divided into sections, with the poems included in “Each Breath an Oar” being among the most powerful. This section begins with the dreamlike opening lines of “The Ark”:
Sleep is not farmland. It has no boundary. Sleep
is wind passing through and round houses and barns, passing round
and over things in formation and form does not matter, nothing
but sleep and dreaming, nothing, just wind, sleep,
and this dream, blurred deer in field at side of road.
The poems offer variety in form, with some having several numbered stanzas, while others are less than a page long. One poem, “my | BELOVED | HISTORY,” is more experimental. Full of strike-throughs and footnotes, this poem is written in conversation with Anne Wilson’s 1809 work Letters on Ancient History.
While many of the poems are free verse, there is also some prose poetry, which is still poetic in nature. For example, “Loop” includes the lines “What does the dawn know of dark woods? Or the desert where the hands of a girl reach through the air?”
In many of the poems, Tegenkamp juxtaposes concrete and abstract to powerful effect, as in the opening lines from “Trees”:
at the point of falling.
Readiness and decay.
Then the chickadee’s fee bee.
Traveler, where are you going?
Though some of the topic matter feels deeply personal, Tegenkamp provides enough space in the poems for the reader to find their own meanings.
The pieces in Girl running hint at a connectedness between seemingly disparate people, places, and objects, and a sense that there is peace to be found in acceptance of what is. Evocative and powerful, this collection is well worth a look.
About the Author
Diana Hope Tegenkamp is a Metis writer who lives and creates on Treaty 6 Territory, Homeland of the Metis. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals across Canada, including CV2, Grain, and Matrix, to name a few. In 2020, she was awarded second prize in the Banff Centre Bliss Carmen Poetry Contest and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. Diana works across mediums, including film, photography, visual art, performance art, sound and music. Her video performance piece, UNMUTE, was selected for SLANT’s 2021 Writing Bodies festival, and more of her multi-disciplinary work, including film poems for Girl running, can be found on her website, www.dianahopetegenkamp.com. She lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Rita Wong and Fred Wah’s 2018 collaboration “beholden:a poem as long as the river” from Talonbooks with cover illustrations by Genevieve Robertson explores the ecology of the Columbia River, which has had fourteen dams intercept it, through a lens of respect. The project began as an interdisciplinary endeavour in support and harmony with the Columbia River, affected First Nations and environmentalism, with Wong and Wah each contributing an individual poem, composed in a unison of time and place, alone and together. Their poems, along with Robertson’s artwork, were originally part of River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River, an interdisciplinary research project of mixed media – print, paintings, drawings, photos, video and verse – undertaken as a response to the damming and development of the Columbia River in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the book features the map and sketches by Emily Carr Art School instructor Nick Conbere that was originally a 114-foot installation, now laid out through 137 tangible pages, Fred Wah’s poem in type starting along the top and Rita Wong’s by hand on the other side of the bank, a reflection of how Wah and Wong wrote their unique and similar experiences from opposite sides of the river, listening in solitude to the same water, crossing over in places. The interactive nature of the stand-alone poetry laid out with a map appeals to the senses, the softness of smooth pages flowing like a river, what was once a long, winding, real-life art display that readers walked along now a permanent resource in book form. While the design is inviting, the heart of the project is more subtle. It emerges from a perspective of intentional respect, grounded in listening and service as an entry point.
The magic of the writing stems from the authors’ proximity to their source with patience and reverence for the water, the biosphere and the myriads of cultures, human and animal, living in harmony with it, to witness and advocate as truthfully as possible in gentle storytelling, encouraging all of us to honour our own voice and place in water for the time that we exist. The overall mood is informed by purposeful, humble listening. The strength of “beholden” is deeper than its technical craft – it’s honesty, letting go of preconceived ideas or assumptions, and approaching the river with humility. This comes out in subtleties, such as the choice to forego capitals on the title or author names, as well as in the long run of gratitude and belonging that emerges through the writing, the way the land claims those who commune with it. In the interview at the back, Fred Wah explains, “I found in approaching our project, after we had decided to do this poem as long as the river, that I had to first shed my preconceptions, not about the river, but about what I could bring to the river. One of the greatest experiences of making this composition was finding out that I had to listen to the river to hear what resonations were available…Language was something that bounced back from the river” (Wah, 139). This echoes through the poetry: “we need to ask permission of the river first” (144), Wong says.
This attentiveness flows into subsidiaries, as smooth as stones washed in consistent, enduring current: “ceremony by ceremony the river people live the wisdom that comes in dreams always remembering the water” (91), Wong writes. Her work is sprinkled with meaningful imagery from “sunning turtles” (10) to “starlight savvy” (132), compassion the secret to the vibrance of her verse, “trees and terrain, song and starlight” (80), evoking the unique atmosphere of place surrounding the Columbia. “…water slips through your fingers but teaches temperature” (120) Wong writes. We trace her words with our fingertips, “generation by generation as blood memory, cell memory, is river memory” (77), our palms and fingers flowing through the river as we read, as though we are in a canoe breathing in words, the layout of the poets weaving through each other the way water carries all. We are one with their poems, part of the “biotextual” concept of flow. As Wong imparts, though we are part of industrialization, we can be aware of our use of electricity, not to be disabled by guilt but to have respect for how electricity is made, what it costs the environment and not to waste it or use it excessively outside of necessity. We are part of the twenty-first century, but we can guide its course.
For Wah, listening starts from beneath the river, his search for language alluded to in the collocation of grammar diction through his poem. “…but remember to return those salmon bones to the water turning truth into a verb” (71), he advises, building an active, changing grammar that implies everything is capable of transformation. “…at the end of isness,” he says, creating musicality in new words. The language he hears from the riverbed revitalizes our use of English and adapts it to a more considerate and reconciliatory tone, while at the same time acknowledging the limitations of language and our complicity in the destruction we face. Wah’s words turn language into power of its own, with permission to adjust form, from noun to verb, to action, permission to loosen from tightly held concrete logging and containment to friction and movement at both cellular and comprehensive levels. He speaks to the anatomy inside us along with the construct of ideas and politics, reminding us that treaties are living agreements. A powerful drumming language is found in his alliteration and rhythm that opens our synapses to wisdom, to know we are one life morphing into the greater silence that absorbs all. Beginning and ending with “cadence” (3) and gratitude, Wah closes the journey with “hello Ocean, River’s mouth thanks for listening to this stream of words become the surf and now the River’s voice is free to roar with the sound of silence” (135-136).
River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River, and“beholden:a poem as long as the river” redefine poetry and its cultural significance in harmony with art and social sciences as a means to honour many voices, water and words flowing through a collective of academic disciplines. The collaboration opens dialogue across fields of study and experience to place poetry as part of resistance, culture, history and change, this story, this time, these voices and truths, reminding us that we are water and “water remembers,” that in all the complexity of our twenty-first-century industrialized lives we are still elements, memory, part of the earth whether we poison ourselves and planet or live as graciously as we reasonably can, that we are presently carrying past and influencing future. We too are water. The intertextuality of beholden carries this through many senses at once, reinforcing the voice of the river as heard through poets Wong and Wah, a message that resonates strongly for its choice to begin by letting go and listening to “the words that the river gave us.”
“beholden:a poem as long as the river” has a tremendous impact on those who experience it. “as the ocean accepts the river” (136), so we too absorb this practice of listening with intent to serve through words, actions, voice and being, in this time in all its complexity and beauty, to open ourselves to awareness for our own sustainability and well-being, to walk with reverence for all life creating our own river verse in classrooms, life and daily interactions, playing with meaning through awakened understanding.
About the Author
Rita Wong lives and works on unceded Coast Salish territories, also known as Vancouver. Dedicated to questions of water justice, decolonization, and ecology, she is the author of monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998), forage(Nightwood Editions, 2007), sybil unrest (Line Books, 2008, with Larissa Lai), undercurrent(Nightwood Editions, 2015), and perpetual(Nightwood Editions, 2015, with Cindy Mochizuki), as well as the co-editor of downstream: reimagining water (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016, with Dorothy Christian).
Fred Wah was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, in 1939, and he grew up in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. Studying at UBC in the early 1960s, he was one of the founding editors of the poetry newsletter TISH. After graduate work with Robert Creeley at the University of New Mexico and with Charles Olson at SUNY, Buffalo, he returned to the Kootenays in the late 1960s, founding the writing program at DTUC before moving on to teach at the University of Calgary. A pioneer of online publishing, he has mentored a generation of some of the most exciting new voices in poetry today.
Of his seventeen books of poetry, is a door received the BC Book Prize, Waiting For Saskatchewan received the Governor-General’s Award and So Far was awarded the Stephanson Award for Poetry. Diamond Grill, a biofiction about hybridity and growing up in a small-town Chinese-Canadian café won the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction, and his collection of critical writing, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity, received the Gabrielle Roy Prize.
Wah was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2012. He served as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2013.
Deepfake Serenade(Nightwood Editions) is Chris Banks’s sixth poetry collection, irreverent charm, emotional distance and surprising hot takes leap off every page. He writes in the title poem, “Inside every one of us is a deepfake. A holy ghost,” suggesting people have a choice to feel either like sad imposters or, if they’re brave, like survivors staring down a world both utterly familiar and strange.
Raised in the Ontario communities of Bancroft, Sioux Lookout and Stayner, where his father served postings as a small-town police officer, Chris Banks took his BA at the University of Guelph, a Master’s in Creative Writing at Concordia and an education degree at Western. He currently works as an English and Creative Writing instructor at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo, Ontario.
What is Deepfake Serenade saying about our current culture with social influencers, and where our social media profiles become advertisements that hide, rather than illuminate, ourselves? If we are not selling ourselves, what are we selling?
I think we are selling little “packets”— ourselves, the world, cute animal videos, human feelings— things that become toyed down and easily digested in a culture obsessed with consumption. We live in an accelerated society. We want the quick opinion piece, or rapid Covid test, or even fast food conjured from pressing a few buttons on our smartphones. Now even our news is boiled down to the essence of a story on Twitter so it can be easily shared. I think the new book reflects that kind of quick energy.
Why the change in poetic voice in recent books? You went from a lyrical, deeply meditational approach to poetry, ground in verisimilitude, i.e. real-life things, to a more loose associational, surreal “scatter-gun” approach to writing?
I think I ran out of things to say about my life and this can become a crisis of voice for a poet. I was in my Forties and I had run out of things to say about my childhood and my worldview was changing. When I was writing my book The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory, my marriage was ending and I was a single father to young children.
I was also not having much fun writing anymore, and I noticed some American poets like Dean Young and Bob Hicok and Kim Addonizio seemed to be having much more of a good time in their poems. Their poems seemed more mischievous, more daring, more reckless, and in a word, more interesting than lots of what I was reading so I started to write much more quickly, more aphoristically, and so my poetic approach and overall voice changed. Deepfake Serenade is the product of opening myself up more to word-play and being less intentional, less calculated, and more spontaneous in my poems.
In the poem “Avatar, Sweet Avatar”, you write that you “smashed / all the lamps inside words but still connections shine through”. What do you mean by this or are you just having a bit of fun with the reader?
I think what I mean by that line is that you have to let go of this idea that you know where a poem is going to go. For my first three books say, I would think of an idea for a poem, mull it around for a while, and then slowly construct the stanzas, the images, the lines. It was agonizing work. I did not want to do that anymore. I felt in a hurry to start saying lots of things, even if I was not sure exactly what it was I wanted to say. But I still knew I wished to be surprised by what I wrote, and you cannot be surprised if you sit and think too much about your subject matter. The element of surprise, of just sitting at a table in the morning and seeing if a poem shows up or not, has become very important to me. And I think that kind of improvisational energy runs through all of the poems in Deepfake Serenade.
As much as this book is a rich inventory of playful associations and images, some real-life things still find their way into the poems — your recovery from alcohol dependence, vasectomies, teenage concerts, new love, on and on—so what is the connection, the divine glue, holding those real-life subjects, the good, the bad, to the more imaginative word-play in your poems?
I think of what Richard Hugo says about triggering subjects and the need for a stable base in a poem. “The more stable the base, the freer you are to fly from it in a poem,” he writes in one essay. I like to keep real-life memories and events in the periphery of my poetic vision. I rarely approach them head-on anymore. But I do believe that life experiences need to find their way into a poem as they can often make a bridge to some other off-the-wall image or connection that you might not have imagined otherwise. “All things belong in a poem,” says Richard Hugo, and my book is a product of that kind of thinking.
You talk in your poem “Escapism is Fabulous”, about the importance of epiphany in your poems. Could you elaborate on its significance when putting together a poem or a manuscript?
This goes back to what I was saying about the element of surprise, but surprise can not be just for surprise’s sake. Surprise has to be attached to new knowledge, to wisdom, for instance, which is when hopefully epiphany enters into a piece you are working on. This is what I mean when I write in that poem, “I am trying to sieve a few epiphanies / from palatial glass skyscrapers, sunspots, / microwave ovens, fake antiques, honeybees /nuzzling yellow stamens, daily clickbait, / a thousand poetry books, a blurry future, / old debts, new intuitions, as if it all adds up, / composes a self hiding inside a lumpy body.” Epiphany generates that little electric shock or zap! people feel when they read a really good poem, and that is certainly why I write and still read poetry. New knowledge, new ways of thinking, new uses of language are what remind me I am alive.
So what do we really learn about Chris Banks the poet from Deepfake Serenade? And what do you think the audience will come away learning about themselves?
Well, they will learn a version of who I am, but the speaker in my poems is far more wise, far more silly, far more risk-taking than I am in real life. As for what people will learn about themselves, I think the poems capture that accelerated, frenetic energy of modern life. It holds a mirror up to the World Wide Web, and to ourselves as consumers, whether we are consuming a cute Cat video, or the latest celebrity scandal, or rain slicking the windshield of our car on a morning drive to work. I want to create the illusion that all things can find their way into my work, and in so doing, the invisible rivets, what holds all things together, are stamped into my poetry.
Why is the title Deepfake Serenade?
I think the title Deepfake Serenade refers to how each of us is and is not ourselves online. We have become avatars for the way we wish to be seen. I say in the title poem “inside each of us is a Deepfake. A holy ghost” and I think I am trying to get at this idea that to simply exist now is to wear a disguise, or that we make of ourselves a disguise, we take to our places of work or into online spaces. We are selling that disguise to the world.
First books by young women poets seem to be at a new high, though the stats are lacking. Is this due to the proliferation of MFA programs for which initial publications are signs of success? Likely, in part (the thanks in the back makes it seem as if these texts were written by committee!) But of course, this says little about the quality. When, at 25, my first book came out, I recall garnering at least nine reviews. Now there are more books published and more anxiety about status, and thus an author is lucky to receive two reviews. And so.
Pebble Swing by Isabella Wang from Vancouver is a collection of poems that, at times, might be more potent in prose. Why? Because often the lucid storytelling surmounts the song, despite Wang’s delicious facility with the ghazal, particularly in the more traditional Ghazal for Heirloom Family Recipes (“This is a spell we are currently under, but I promise it won’t stay bitter”) and the modern Springtime Ghazals (“Autumn sunshine pulls through/the rim of a glass mug”). Pulls. A unique verb there. As when Wang chooses “embraced” to connect to the processes of “dough.” Other times, clichés predominate such as “moved to tears,” “arms of children…like trees,” “spreading like wild fire” and dew “like strings of pearls.” Poetry needs tough edits to resonate. Wang’s necessary subject matter, of her Asian family and its dislocations, its exquisite foods and its intimate sorrows (“Death fell in petals on the funeral floor”) demands greater attention to diction decisions. That said, it’s a debut and Wang impresses with her vivid potential here.
Ellie Sawatsky’s None of This Belongs to Me, though also a debut, is by a somewhat more honed voice whose subjects vary from her nannying jobs to road trips, the remnants of childhood, and cultural signifiers like Google, Burning Man, Twitter, Xanax, Tinder and IKEA. At times, these allusions seem like merely “shorthands for my generation” and thus, insufficiently elaborated, but Sawatsky’s sophistication with form and length often enables these pieces to transcend such superficialities. There is nursery song love, Plautdietsch history, incensed ecology (“Re-colonizers,/we’re not supposed to be/here either”), human fragility and endurance (the gorgeous pantoum “Chihuly’s Mille Fiori” along with the sharply hewn pastoral, “Three Days and the Next However Long”) and personal poetics (the fantastical line,“Poetry: the way the night/tries to make sense of its day”). When Sawatsky chooses “u” instead of “you” or removes the slash from b/c or overuses anaphora as in “Forgive us our Trespasses” where “a girl” doing this or that is repeated to excess, there is tedium in the read. But there is little in the way of tired language here. So I have hope. One way or another, amid the apocalypse’s many faces these days, writers like Wang and Sawatsky persist in “some kind of flight.”
About the Author
Isabella Wang is the author of the chapbook On Forgetting a Language (Baseline Press, 2019). She has been shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry, Minola Review’s Poetry Contest, and was the youngest writer to be shortlisted twice for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest. Wang’s poetry and prose have appeared in over thirty literary journals and three anthologies, including Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2020) and They Rise Like A Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets (Blue Oak Press, 2021). She studies English and world literature at Simon Fraser University and is an editor at Room magazine. Pebble Swing is her debut full-length poetry collection. She lives in Port Moody, BC.
Publisher : Nightwood Editions (Oct. 16 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 112 pages
ISBN-10 : 0889714061
ISBN-13 : 978-0889714069
Ellie Sawatzky is a writer from Kenora, ON. She was a finalist for the 2019 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, and the recipient of CV2’s 2018 Young Buck Poetry Prize. Her work has been published widely in literary journals and anthologies such as The Fiddlehead, PRISM International, Best Canadian Poetry, The Matador Review, Prairie Fire, The Puritan and Room. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in Vancouver, BC. None of This Belongs to Me is her debut poetry collection.
Cadence: voix féminines, Female Voices is a compilation of poetry from twenty-five female New Brunswick authors with diverse styles and distinct cultural backgrounds, including French, Vietnamese, German and Arabic. Editors Kayla Geitzler and Elizabeth Blanchard brilliantly produced a chapbook that evokes feelings of empathy, resilience, empowerment, liberation, and self-awareness from a female perspective.
This collection is a dactylic combination of poetry and prose that is as diverse as its authors. An articulate mixture of writing styles has just enough use of metaphors and pathetic fallacy to describe the trials and tribulations of humankind beginning from birth and ending with death. In this particular case, the issues women encounter i.e., loss of innocence, youth, virginity, child, parent, and self with underlying tones of misogyny, devastation, regret, disappointment, and grief tend to be overpowering which makes it difficult to devour this book in one seating.
A cultural patch-work quilt of verse that is mainly translated to English allows its audience to ride the highest tides in the world, to relive youthful joyrides, be named after a cloud “Cumulus congestus or cumulonimbus/Heaped, fibrous, anvil topped.” (Steel, pp. 37), feel the drumbeats of mother earth and watch a father’s dying soul carried away by “black talons spread/ at dawn/ my father’s last whisper/ hawr hawr hawr/ his raven took flight” (Bowman, pp.100)
Readers can peer through the eyes of those struggling with loyalty to self vs family and religious, sins of the father, belittlement, and the tearing away of innocence and how the subject chooses to succumb or rise above.
Loss seems to be the most prevalent theme between the covers of this extra-large chapbook beautifully illustrated by Nancy King Schofield. “The Night Mares” suits the ghostly cover illustration perfectly, as Vanessa Moeller refers to buried “cannon bone, pastern, coffin bone” that are “lost under pine and coyotes’ throated hunger.” (pp.69). This selection leaves the reader wondering if this is a metaphorical loss of one’s self as a result of a woman broken down by society or the loss of nature and ecology on a grand scheme.
This collection would be perfect on the curriculum of an advanced art literature course but may prove intimidating to the novice reader. It is the type of collection that, read more than once, would find new meaning each time, based on the reader’s self-reflection within the pages and may cause triggers for some. The task of reviewing the works of genius from these phenomenal female authors and editors was daunting, but their cadence beat strong and loud and needs to be revibrated to more voices.
Sarah Venart’s I Am the Big Heart, published fall 2020 by Brick Books, commands the poetics of family tensions. The first of five sections opens with “Epiphany,” in which the speaker struggles with many of the book’s major themes–motherhood, creativity, loss–all the while maintaining her caregiving duties up to the last moments of a pet dog’s life. The opening poem is not the only one to combine fast-paced narrative with elaborate introspection in a short number of lines. Venart’s imagery throughout the book blends abstraction and precision, sometimes within the same breath, to make frequently explored topics unique again.
Ecology is intertwined with poems on gender and loss, addressing animal life and farm life as interlocutors with the speaker’s own experiences. “Stun Guns,” which closes the second section of the book, is one of many poems to employ the grotesque and delicate nonhuman to striking effect:
I don’t know if the pigeon was stunned from hitting the patio door or from her torn-open breast, but while my husband held her wings, I saved her by crossing twine around her throat and tightening until her lavender lids met, her black keratin beak parting.
Intergenerational dialogue is also at the heart of this collection; the speaker finds complexity in her relationship with her young children, and she intersperses fragments from her mother’s journals that make up several found poems throughout the book. The speaker is primarily introspective, struggling to balance her dedication to her loved ones and her craft, but as she reflects on her role in her family she adopts their perspectives to enrich her own:
What advice is handed from mother to mother? When blending pastry,
use ice. Prick names into pies with a fork. As for pain, you bear it
as it courses through your neck.
Venart’s book is on the shortlist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the Relit Award for Poetry this year. These nominations are most deserved; I Am the Big Heart excels at the daunting task of captivating the reader for 90 pages of short yet striking poems. Venart’s poems present vulnerability and viciousness, personal and universal at once. Her robust and nuanced images linger long after first encountering her poems and draw you back to repeat the experience.
Sarah Venart‘s poetry has been published in Numero Cinq, Concrete and River, The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, This Magazine, Prism International, and on CBC Radio. She is the author of Woodshedding (Brick Books, 2007) and Neither Apple Nor Pear. Sarah lives in Montreal and teaches writing at John Abbott College.