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In his new book of poems, A Matins Flywheel, John Lent brings a life-long fascination with literary forms to the hybrid prose/poetry of a new long poem called “Matins for St. Agnes of The Crossroads: 62nd Avenue and 109th Street, Edmonton,” and to the new, loose, genre-mixing poems and prose sketches about growing up in Edmonton, Lent’s love of jazz, his travel to Prague, and his remembering the writing legacy of Robert Kroetsch. Because these meditations and poems are rooted in the visceral struggles to find the necessary love and honesty required to live through some harrowing health mysteries, these meditations surface close to the bones of our contemporary lives and celebrate an almost unearthly delight of skin and texture and breath and light and love. This writing is not fooling around; it wants a lot. And like the work of Lent’s self-declared models — Robert Kroetsch, Sheila Watson, Eileen Myles, John Berger, W.G. Sebald, Per Petterson, Pierre Michon, Jake Kennedy and Marilyn Robinson — he sings the reader right smack dab back into the density of these times and some of its luminous joys and sorrows. “I feel I have been writing towards this book all my life,” Lent says, explaining what he was trying to do in A Matins Flywheel. “[The book] tries to run with everything I have learned about forms of consciousness in literature into a kind of baffling wonder at the truth of those shattering, fragmented forms themselves, the human exhilaration in them as subject and object.” A Matins Flywheel is an exciting, new book by an accomplished, innovative writer.
“Intermittently funny, heart-wrenching, clever, and quirky, the book’s potpourri of forms is connected by inventive images and consistently exquisite line breaks. In the sonnet “Elegy”—a standout—Alexander stitches together sarcasm, outrage, and caring description as his speaker looks at an oven-ready roasting chicken.” – Canadian Literature, January 25, 2019, reviewed by Neil Surkan
Poems that form an eloquent, searching contemplation of “the warp and weft of being and nonbeing.”
All the Names Between is Nova Scotia poet Julia McCarthy’s meditative and crackling-with-dark-energy third collection. From her observation of “long-horned beetles… rearranging the landscape” to an apperception of “part of me /…seeded by dust / of meteors and asteroids,” McCarthy makes palpable, in richly layered imagery and with attentiveness that unfolds stillness, the “Singing Emptiness” that informs and quickens the crow’s flight, the stones’ weight, and our own being as we move in “the defined world both elegant / and maimed.” Concerned with both the inadequacy and the necessity of word to convey world, the poems move through a shifting landscape of seasons and creatures, of the remembered dead, and of scattered stones reading the Akashic field.
Grounded in the experience of presence, where the external and internal meet, a crossroads of consciousness where “a language without a name / remembers us” and the poem is a votive act, All the Names Between reflects the shadow-light of being, of what is and what isn’t, the seen and the unseen, the forgotten and the remembered where
every elegy has an ode at its centre
every ode has an elegy around its edges.
(from “Ode with an Elegy around its Edges”)
Praise for All the Names Between:
“It is Julia McCarthy’s incomparable eloquence as a poet to, as an experienced photographer might, wield darkness as an ever more powerful lens to reveal the intricate beauty of the world as she finds it. And it is with this extraordinary vision, that McCarthy ushers us into her newest collection, All the Names Between, ‘where the dead gather like trees in their white coats’ and bats hover overhead, ‘lucifugal as ashes from invisible fires.’ These are poems scintillate with vision and stunningly intimate–showing us page after page the full, and exquisite measure of ‘night’s worth.’” –Clarise Foster, Editor, Contemporary Verse 2
“Here is a book of meditations for even those immune to poetry, a poetry with no comfort zones. McCarthy takes readers to a world where the marriage between solitude and nature gives birth to memorable, haunting lines, where the mystery of poetry lies just between the words. I have no doubt readers will embrace this book as their own.” –Goran Simić, author of Immigrant Blues and From Sarajevo, with Sorrow
Katie Vatour’s extraordinary debut collection is an eclectic examination of the space where humans and animals meet, where migratory patterns encounter commercial flights, and birds appear as fishermen, security guards, and street performers. There are riffs on the chameleon and lyrebird, odes to buffalo and shark. With poems that are at once intuitive yet idiosyncratic, visceral yet cerebral, and that flourish an unconventional sense of effortless motion, An Unorthodox Guide to Wildlife considers how animals exist in our lives and imaginations: as autonomous beings, as mimics and metaphors of our own lives, and as bellwethers of environmental damage. At times humourous, tragic, or both, these poems tell the story of natural existence in a sometimes unnatural world.
Following Surani’s previous collection Operations, which excavated the debasement done to language by nations worldwide, how does one return to using language for poetry? Are the Rivers in Your Poems Real responds to this question. Amidst the dangers of figurative language, the coercion of sentimentality and the insidious freight of abstraction, these poems embody the necessity for the critical, the communal, the real. This collection uses conceptual critiques of public discourse and experimental social cartographies, as well as lyrics of intimacy, to defy prescribed ways of being.
Are the Rivers in Your Poems Real is an act of resistance against dangerous and domineering narratives, and the power they inscribe.
Much of the language that makes up Better Nature—the first book-length poetry collection by writer and academic Fenn Stewart—is drawn from a diary that Walt Whitman wrote while travelling through Canada at the end of the nineteenth century.
But rather than waxing poetic about the untouched Great White North, Stewart inlays found materials (early settler archives, news stories, email spam, fundraising for environmental NGOs, and more) to present a unique view of Canada’s “pioneering” attitude towards “wilderness”—one that considers deeper issues of the settler appropriation of Indigenous lands, the notion of terra nullius, and the strategies and techniques used to produce a “better nature” (that is, one that better serves the nation).
Poems that examine the creative achievements of the human hand, from cave art to contemporary photography.
John Reibetanz’s twelfth collection, By Hand, begins with an epigraph from Lewis Mumford: “Until modern times, apart from the esoteric knowledge of the priests, philosophers, and astronomers, the greater part of human thought and imagination flowed through the hands.” Reibetanz’s new poems investigate human creativity as a visceral interaction with the world: our imagining hands finding the music implicit in the stuff of earth, a “duet// of earthbound songsters,” of mind and material, each shaping the other. Centered on this duet, the book encompasses the wide-ranging aspects of our humanity–hands used for good and ill–portrayed in the examined paintings and sculptures, gardens, tapestries, photographs, and carvings. And they explore in particular the relationship in these artifacts between the “givens” of nature and the modifications and contributions of human culture. As Roo Borson says of the collection, “the poems are shot through with moments in which language’s particular dexterity comes into its own and real objects are remade, as when these lines from ‘The Installation’ celebrate the ‘commonality of clay’ in a relief by della Robbia:”
the light-quickened humus
of the eyes that, for hundreds of years, have read the notes
inscribed on the banner an angel is unscrolling…
“These are the words of a real craftsman, writing about other makers. …Through acute seeing, [Reibetanz] communicates to the reader the nowness of things made centuries ago and the humanity of their creators.” –Robert Lemay
At one moment, a pure abstraction; at the next, an incontrovertible presence of hooves, antlers, and fur. The beating heart of this assured debut by Richard Kelly Kemick is the Porcupine caribou herd of the western Arctic.
In Caribou Run, Richard Kelly Kemick orchestrates a suite of poems both encyclopedic and lyrical, in which the caribou is both metaphor and phenomenon — text and exegesis. He explores what we share with this creature of blood and bone and what is hidden, alien, and ineffable.
Following the caribou through their annual cycle of migration, Kemick experiments with formal and thematic variations that run from lyric studies of the creature and its environment, to found poems that play with the peculiar poetry of scientific discourse, to highly personal poems that find resonance in the caribou as a metaphor and a guiding spirit. Running the gamut from long-lined free verse and ghazal form to tightly controlled tankas and interwoven rhyme schemes, Caribou Run serves notice that a formidable new talent has been let loose on the terrain of Canadian poetry.
In this poetry collection written by an award-winning author and translated from French by an award-winning translator, the relentless force of water waves rambles the streets of a small village with fear. The streets become empty and the people vanish without a trace. With his intricate and distinctive poetic style, Paul Savoie successfully portrays his creative talent and explores a wide range of human feelings, fears, and perceptions inviting us to the world of mystery, fantasy, and suspense.
A pitch-perfect debut and a call to act in the service of Earth through radiant attention.
Humankind, at present, has breached floodgates that have only been breached before in ancient stories of angry gods, or so far back on geologic and biological timelines as to seem more past than past. Against this catastrophic backdrop (at the end of consolations, at the high-water mark), and equipped with a periscopic eye and a sublime metaphorical reach, poet Dan MacIsaac has crowded his debut vessel with sloths and gipsy-birds, mummified remains and bumbling explorers, German expressionists and Neolithic cave-painters.
MacIsaac knows that in order to render a thing in language, description itself must be open to metamorphosis and transformation; each thing must be seen alongside, overtop of, and underneath everything else that has been seen. With the predominant “I” of so many poetic debuts almost entirely absent, Cries from the Ark is catalogue and cartography of our common mortal–and moral–lot.
“These poems are fecund as black dirt, as carnal and joyous. Each piece is an owl pellet, a concentrate of bone and tuft, of bison, auk and Beothuk. Not since Eric Ormsby’s Araby have I read a book so empathic and so glossarily rich. Fair warning, MacIsaac: I’ll be stealing words from you for years.” –Sharon McCartney
“MacIsaac sings a raven’s work, sings the guts from our myths, sings our world with the breath that ‘for a century/ of centuries / only the wild grass / remembered.’ Present but acquainted with antiquity, MacIsaac’s instrument is our own breathing as we say these poems of reverence to ourselves.” –Matt Rader
A culvert anchors a key scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The 39 Steps and a scene in Two for the Road starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Culverts appear in books by Tony Burgess, Dennis Cooley, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and Virginia Woolf. Culverts called to Brenda Schmidt’s imagination as well. As a child she played in and around their steel dark openings and took risks. In the daring poetry and prose of Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road the risk-taking continues. In her journeys, she asked people from all walks of life — construction workers, farmers, biologists, writers, musicians — about their culvert stories. Their recollections of experiences with or near culverts, both dark and light, gave voice to her own experiences, providing another sense of the connections we share and the way stories emerge and flow. Schmidt does this by using the stories as a jumping off point when they call up her own memories. She expands on interview quotes, stretching and bending them to create new stories and poems.
A tenderman is a crew member of a fishing vessel, a fisherman, someone who hauls live fish to the shore every day. In The Dark Set, the Tenderman is a character from another time, a worker in a lost resource culture, who is both a breathing artifact of a rough-edged, wilder past and a representative of uncomfortable human traits that rise out of ignorance and a failure of empathy. A fiercely independent everyman, the Tenderman is Bowling’s way of wrestling with his own conflicted feelings about masculinity, history, citizenship and power. The division between the poet and the tenderman is wide, but he is a kind of shadow brother, a solitary visitor from a world North America repeatedly tries, and fails, to leave behind.
In the summer of 2009, poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott traveled to five distinct ecosystems in British Columbia, leaving a single copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to decay for a year in each remote outdoor location. A year later the texts were retrieved, photographed and documented, and worked into Decomp, an extended photoÂessay and prose poem. The poets allowed nature to make ‘selections’ from Darwin’stext, via decomposition. Each distinct ecosystem offered a different ‘reading’ of (and through) the rotting book’s pages. As evolution works, in Timothy Morton’s words, ‘Âthrough constant rewritings of the DNA sequence,’ so the poets found themselves faced with a constantly rewritten Darwin. The final text is ‘made up of all kinds of viral code insertions so you can’t tell which bit is original.’
Through colourful photo reproductions and prose meditations on their found texts, Collis and Scott have produced a work that moves beyond the typical dualisms of nature and writing Â dualisms still active in Darwin’s own book.
Looking deeply into humanity’s interactions with the animal world, Linda Frank considers our fascination with and fear of nature, as well as our exploitation of all species. These poems catalogue not only the beautiful and sometimes deadly complexity of our natural world, but investigate the ways we have sought to understand it, highlighting the struggle of women scientists to push past misogyny. In these poems Nabokov’s butterflies live on beside flea circuses and von Frisch’s bees are as detailed as the habits of the jewel wasp. This is a collection written with a botanist’s eye and a scientist’s attention to cause and effect, both a lament and paean to a world that is vanishing.
Usually, we take for granted or plain ignore the Earth we walk on, the Sky above, the Water we drink and bathe in or that falls as rain, the Fire we assume for heat, and the Wood that makes up our landscape and building materials. But over fifteen years as a construction carpenter, Kate Braid began to pay more attention to the materials she worked with and depended upon. Out of these she has crafted an intimate picture of what it is like to be wholly engaged with the elemental materials of earth, sky, water, fire and wood that we depend upon every day.
Elemental is a poignant, intelligent collection that asks us to look more closely at ourselves and the details that construct our rich and delicate world.
Fracking – tar-sand runoff – dirty oil extraction. This is the language of our oil-addicted 21st century society: incredibly invasive, blatant in its purpose, and richly embedded in mythological and archetypal symbolism. The ultimate goal of the industry: To core the underworld.
Endangered Hydrocarbons, Lesley Battler’s first full-length collection of poetry, shows that the language of hydrocarbon extraction, with its blend of sexual imagery, archetype, science, pseudoscience and the purely speculative, can be as addictive as the resource it pursues.
Using pastiche and wordplay, Battler shines a floodlight on the absurdity and pervasiveness of production language in all areas of human life in the oil fields, including art, culture and politics. Incorporating texts generated by a multinational oil company, and spliced with a variety of found material (video games, home decor magazines, works by Henry James and Carl Jung), Battler deliberately tampers with her found material, treating it as crude oil–excavating, mixing, and drilling these texts to emulate extraction processes used by the industry.With traces of Dennis Lee’s Testament, Larissa Lai’s Automaton Biographies, and Adam Dickinson’s The Polymers, this lively and refreshing take on a polarizing topic will resonate with readers of contemporary poetry who connect with environmental issues and capitalist critique.