Everything Colin Browne has made up or invented in The Shovel seems written in prose; everything in it he has “unearthed”—from research, the stories of others and source texts—appears as poetry. In this extraordinary book, he has inverted the way we have been defining and privileging forms of language in English for the last century; self-expression becomes prosaic, the recording of history, poetic.
While The Shovel contains a range of styles and voices—everything from concrete poetry to “recollections of things past in tranquility” to delightfully humourous accounts of the poet’s accidental encounters with prominent philosophers—this book lives and sings through its epic passages. Ezra Pound defined the epic as “a poem containing history,” and in these necessary poems Browne is a restless prowler through history’s layers, sudden veerings and terrible, wonderful intersections. The Shovel is a book composed in wartime, an act of reckoning, a record of unkept anniversaries and possible histories (in texts devoted to the likes of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Linton Garner). In exhuming the mesopelagic shades of the 20th century, The Shovel collapses, at last, the reigning fiction of time.
Every age demands a poetry to contain it, and here Colin Browne takes a measure of both the privileges and the appalling costs of service and citizenship, from colonial British Columbia to World War I Mesopotamia.
Colin Browne is the author of Abraham (Brick Books, 1987); the critically acclaimed collection of poetry Ground Water (Talonbooks, 2002), which was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award and a Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize; and The Shovel (Talonbooks, 2007), shortlisted for the 2008 ReLit Award. He was an editor of Writing magazine and co-founder of the Kootenay School of Writing, the Praxis Centre for Screenwriters and the Art of Documentary workshops.
“The skill and intense ardor of the mind at work … is delightful. ” — Fred Wah
“The epic sweep of pieces is impressive, at times rapturous. They are worth digging for. ”
—Quill & Quire
“The Shovel is a major work, confirmation of Colin Browne’s exacting artistry, his ability to bring such a wide range of materials into a single, epic (in the sense that Pound gave to that term), and devastatingly concentrated unity of purpose. One of those necessary books, it earns and deserves our closest attention. ”
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