Monday, April 29, 2013

Between Dusk and Night - Emily McGiffin

Today's book of poetry:  Between Dusk and Night.  Emily McGiffin.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario. 2012.

In 2008 Emily McGiffin won the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers' Trust of Canada.

Bronwen Wallace was a very fine poet who died young but not before producing several excellent books of poetry and prose.  My favourite Bronwen Wallace book of poetry is The Stubborn Particulars of Grace.

With Between Dusk and Night, McGiffin can confidently enter the same pantheon of excellence.

Here are two examples of why:

Note on Astronomy

Under a salted black sky
you peer into the throng of stars - Orion!

It's what we've hoped for:
a means of converting the deep cold dark
to a friendly giant.  Orion to bring home
a fattened fall bear so that we can sit together
all winter on a black rug, chewing jerky in the smoky tallow light

Caught out in bleak November, we've been looking
for bona fide companions.  Or a mathematical
equation.  For irrefutable signposts on a well-marked path
to trot down blithely, knowing at last how to proceed.
how to slip beyond the confines of our scanty minds
into the real meaning of things.

The fog rolls in off the lake.  And I cannot but hope
that a plant deprived of sun will grow on anyway, blindly, bent
on a half-remembered promise.  That in this same gesture
of pure desire, dandelions burst through pavement, lichen
devours a skyscraper, saxifrage -- minutely, mutely --
in silence dismantles a wall.


After a Journey

There is a language roots write through the soil;
you've begun to learn it, pressing your ear
night after night to the earth
until their words are almost of your body
after so much conspiring with your sleeping bones.

Now you are thinking of your footfalls in a forest
becoming sure as your heartbeat, as rain--
you grow so still a thrush
lights on your wrist, forgetting
to be afraid.  And near you a beetle
emerges from under a leaf;
it has found the sun and remembers
its own limbs, its stiff grace.
What it must do.


In McGiffin's world it seems the space between nature and human emotion has been breached.  McGiffin gives the earth language, yet we understand and appreciate the conversation.

These aren't necessarily easy poems, but the best poetry never is.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Wind River Variations - Brian Brett

Today's book of poetry:  The Wind River Variations.  Brian Brett.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, British Columbia.  2012.  (Photographs by Fritz Mueller)

Brian Brett took his aging body on series of river expeditions in the summer of 2003.  Brett was a member of a party of environmentalists, Native elders, artists, writers and photographers who journeyed to the remote waters of the Wind River, The Bonnet Plume River and the Snake River.  These rivers are all feeders to the Peel River which feeds the MacKenzie.  Much of this area of the north is under threat from development.

Brett's poems and prose-poems are almost conversational in tone.  At times instructive, it's clear that his eyes are always wide open, he is taking everything in.  These poems can be amusing and then demanding - but the read is a reward.

The Short, Natural History Of This Mosquito

These northern bugs, they are everywhere,
behind my eyelids, and under my tongue,
committing suicide in the stew,
     dancing above the fire,
     drinking lakes,
attacking the insect-eater's beak.
     These bugs
     invite death
with a single-mindedness
      I have to admire -
the fat monster in my tent,
humming every time my breath
hints at the even sound of sleep.
     He doesn't know
     My eyes are not shut.


The photographs by award winning photographer Fritz Mueller give the book an added level of intimacy and precision that is appealing.  These are good photographs and suite the poetry without over shadowing it.

No sentimentality but sensitive poems.  No heart-strings but Brett's book is as Jan Zwicky says:  "the work of a huge heart".

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Porcupine Burning - Blair Trewartha

Today's book of poetry:  Porcupine Burning.  Blair Trewartha.  Baseline Press.  London, Ontario.  2012.

Porcupine Burning is a series of poems about a Canadian mining town that burned to the ground in 1911 and those who bore witness to the event.  Trewartha gives us a Ken Burns historic against a Deadwood drama reality show where gold has literally melted into the streets of ash.

Blair Trewartha has a fierce precision to his language.  When he talks about smoke you can feel the acrid taste at the back of your throat.


I wait for an avalanche.  A mountain's chest
to come pummeling down on my head, unearthing me.

I want to be gutted like a sow on a string,
window-framed and hanging.

You were going to be gorgeous.
I was going to be strong.

Now I carry your torso like a chain that can't be unhooked,
my mind a series of sparks waiting to be lit.

This heat is a tree I'd like to climb, barefoot,
breaking through the surface until there's only sky.

I wander through a sea of tents, sweating metallic.
Children run beside me collecting silver droplets in a cup.

My body bleeds itself out,
and the entire town replenishes.

I am a goat splayed open under moon.
A log of timber burning forever.

I collapse beneath cloud cover on a sundial.
Everyone else is keeping warm.


Porcupine Burning by Blair Trewartha has only the fault of being too short.  A voice with this much wit, charm and intelligence is one worth listening to.

Clearly I liked these poems.

Now I want to talk about how this book looks and feels.  Magnificent would be cutting it short.  The binding is of St. Armand Canal paper, the flyleaf from Thai Banana paper and the poems themselves on Wansan 70lb. Royal Linen.  The very elegant fonts, Perpetua, Forum and Bodoni suit each other perfectly with a faint whiff of the early twentieth century to them.

Karen Schindler is the mind behind Baseline Press and the designer of this stunningly beautiful book.

All of that beauty wouldn't mean much if the poetry of Trewartha didn't hold its' own weight, but it does.  This is the sort of book other small presses can aspire to.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ignite - Rona Shaffran

Today's book of poetry:  Ignite.  Rona Shaffran.  Signature Editions.  Winnipeg.  2013

An admission, I saw this book as a manuscript/work in progress.  Luckily, for us, the reader, so did:  John Barton, Karen Connelly, Carolyn Forche, Daphne Marlatt, Susan McMaster, Stuart Ross, Olive Senior, D.M. Thomas and Jan Zwicky.  Rona Shaffran is that very rare poet who seeks out the advice of others and then actually uses it.  The evidence is here.

The book I saw has vanished and in its' place Shaffran presents us this highly polished gem.  Ignite.

The book starts with poems of a quiet desperation, a middle-aged woman's angst over the loss of love as a romantic or platonic pastime.  The resolution of which is solved by poems that luxuriate in the ribald pleasure of lust as the relationship is brought back to fiery life.

Rona Shaffran is fearless and these pages blister with rekindled passion as Shaffran builds tension out of touch.

At The Window

A middle-aged couple, we gaze out
our living room window,

my face pressed
against the cool pane.

You tenderize
my earlobe,

hike up my skirt, drop it down
over our hips

and slide into me.

Once again, nerve endings shiver
all through my body

as two silver shadows

across the vinyl siding
of the house next door.


Shaffran is wantonly wicked at times but always in full control of her precise language.  This books almost shudders in your hands as physical love and emotional passion are entwined.  This book is never tawdry, but it certainly is robust.  On these pages the horny Erica Jong battles it out with the contemplative Slyvia Plath on an erotic playground until Shaffran has reached an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

This is a stunning first book full of strong poems.

Check out:  to see more of Rona


Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Essential Tom Marshall - selected by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje

Today's book of poetry:  The Essential Tom Marshall.  Tom Marshall.  Selected by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje.  Porcupine's Quill.  Erin, Ontario.  2012.

Twenty years ago this month, April, Tom Marshall died of a heart attack.

Over the course of my life as a poet I have heard dozens of people, in all seriousness, say to me "well, you'll be famous when you are dead."  As though that was in any way likely or reassuring.  It makes me laugh and it breaks my heart.

Here is a short list off of the top of my head of fine Canadian poets I knew who died young, before their time:  Louis Fagan, Linda Pyke, Dennis Tourbin, Martin Singleton, Riley Tench.  You most likely never heard of them when they were alive and the odds of hearing anything about now are slim and none.

Tom Marshall, on the other hand, has a body of work and friends who remember him well.  They want us to remember him too.  The Essential Tom Marshall is a slim primer to remind us that Marshall had a distinctive voice.  Tom Marshall published fiction and criticism, he did graduate work on the poetry of A.M. Klein and then D.H. Lawrence.  The following is a list of Marshall's published poetry.

The Beast With Three Backs (with Tom Eadie and Colin Norman).  Kingston: Quarry Press, 1965
The Silences of Fire.  Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.
Magic Water.  Kingston: Quarry Press, 1971.
The Earth Book.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1974.
The White City.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1976.
The Elements.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1980.
Playing with Fire.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1984.
Dance of the Particles.  Kingston: Quarry Press, 1984.
Ghost Safari.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1991.
Some Impossible Heaven of the Senses.  Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1994.

Tom Marshall's poetry puts his Kingston as the center of his universe (and it is where his heart resides). But his poems are as big as the whole wide world.  Marshall was a Canadian historian and isn't reluctant to bring history alive in his poems.  In his poem Politics, Louis Riel, MacKenzie and Montgomery all struggle to make it out alive, unlike the unlucky Pierre Laporte.

This selection of Marshall's work by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje is the work of dear friends.  They recognized in Marshall, that his plea "give me the whole fire of your heart" from his poem Astrology, was also a promise, a dramatic stake of claim, a declaration of Marshall's intention to give the whole of his heart.

Marshall quotes his hero D.H. Lawrence's poem The Ship of Fools for the title of his own poem "we are dying, dying, we are all of us dying".  In this poem Marshall prophetically proclaims "we have our moment and then become the past".  David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje are doing what they can to prove this false.  Marshall's poetry, as strongly demonstrated here, will endure.

We should all be so lucky to have such friends.

Other Qualifications

(flat feet, the odd sprained ankle, recurrent flu
running nose, a share of sexual failure

loneliness, boorishness, malice
melancholia, alcoholic shakes

at times, inexplicable black fatigue
of soul, absence of feeling or caring

for days, months of vacancy, nobody home
at the shit-and-blood machine, last seen

asleep, functioning, nobody home but me

Tom Marshall

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sweet Devilry - Yi-Mei Tsiang

Today's book of poetry:  Sweet Devilry.  Yi-Mei Tsiang.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, B.C., 2011.

Yi-Mei Tsiang's debut collection of poetry had to be written by an older woman who inhabits Tsiang when she isn't looking.  It is the only explanation for these fully mature poems about motherhood, death, the black heart of the inevitable and the unseen joys of being a woman.  It is hard to believe that this is a first book because the poets' voice is so utterly confident and in stride.

Susan Musgrave, one of my very favourite poets, said this about Tsiang (quoted from the rear cover):
"These poems put a stake through the heart of any romantic notions we might have that motherhood and the creative process are not compatible.  Witty, poignant, wise, memorable, this is a book to savour, and, oh, what the hell....I totally love this utterly great new poet and think everyone should read her book."  When Susan Musgrave speaks I listen.

I lack the skill set to deconstruct poetry or to give formal analysis of structure.  I started this blog to write about books of poetry that I enjoy and wanted to share.  Yi-Mei Tsiang's Sweet Devilry meets all of my criteria for a good book of poetry.

Tsiang's poems are witty, they bristle with intelligence and humour.  These poems are in turn haunting and hilarious, all the more so because Tsiangs' voice is one we are all comfortable with.  The wise friend who calmly gives us perspective.  Even though I am hearing her voice for the first time it is a voice, as a reader, that I trusted immediately.

Yi-Mei Tsiang sums it up very neatly in her poem Last Will and Testament:

                                   "The secret that poetry is not literature
but meditation, that poetry is not art, but a way to learn
how to be in this world."

I was completely taken in by this book and enjoyed every minute of it - I don't get to say that often enough.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Glossolalia - Marita Dachsel

Today's book of poems:  Glossolalia.  Marita Dachsel.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver.  2013.

Michael Ondaatje's Collected Works of Billy the Kid did it.  Randall Maggs did it with Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems and now Marita Dachsel does it with Glossolalia.

Dachsel so inhabits the characters and time of her story as to make it hyper real.  Ondaatje's dusty Billy came alive, Maggs sweaty Terry Sawchuk groans bruises from page to page and every second feels real.  Dachsel brings the same sort of vivid, intimate focus, you think you can hear the quiet breathing of these women.

Glossolalia is composed of poetic monologues spoken by the thirty-four polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  There are brief passages of doctrine and covenants, a few lists, human ledgers.  But the heart of this book comes from the voices Dachsel has given the women.  Touching, tough, tender, funny, selfish, hostile, Dachsel has given these women real voices as they discuss, in a very human way, what it means to be a woman and a wife.

Olive Grey Frost

How to get rid of bed bugs:

1. Put a drop of mercury in a tumbler.
2. Add the white of two eggs.
3. Mix together.
4. Apply to bed with a feather.

Look at this.  Bites
up & down my body.
Didn't know what they were
until one of the Sisters pulled me aside.
Wish the others had the sense
to tell me at the beginning, Sure,
there was plenty to remember,
but something practical
would have been much appreciated.


Dachsel has been nominated for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry (and how apt is that, you can see the positive influence of Kroetsch all over this fine book - and that is a good thing).  She has also been nominated for the ReLit Prize.  Neither of these nominations will come as any surprise to those who've read Marita Dachsel.

Glossolalia is simply riveting, it is hauntingly sad, it is a clear and articulate indictment of patriarchy and religion.  Joseph Smith's shadow hangs over this book but each of the women shine through his dark cloud, and they are finally given voice in a reversal of the standard history.

If I had a rating system this book would get all my stars.

ps:  Glossolalia - to speak in tongues.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Late Moon - Pamela Porter

Today's book of poetry:  Late Moon.  Pamela Porter.  Ronsdale Press. Vancouver.  2013.

Pamela Porter is the author of six collections of poetry.  Her work has won the 2012 Malahat Review University of Victoria 50th Anniversary Poetry Prize, the 2012 FreeFall Magazine Poetry Award, the 2011 Prism International Grand Prize in Poetry, the 2010 Vallum Magazine Poem of the Year Award.  She has been shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award and won the 2005 Governor General's Award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award and the TD Children's Literature Award.

The following are snippets, tastes of Porter's Ronsdale Press volume Late Moon.  The poems in this book struggle to identify a father, fathers and fatherhood.  Porter fights through various notions of what family is and her place in it.  These poems are a personal search for her own redemption.

Consider the following as though they were sounds bites and you were thinking of buying the album:

I didn't know then all the ways
leaving resembles arriving.
     The River Asked Me

Those who have died and come back
say, I understood everything,
what slips away while we sleep,
what the sea prays for under its breath.
     Standing in the Sky

It is the weight of a locked door,
the lightness of the hand
          without a key,
the swiftness of a bird
          rising beyond sight.
     The Shape of My Father's Face

I had heard of the embroidery of spider
in the air between barn and window.
     Why I Came Down

I was watching my dead father
walk from the street to the house
          in his deliberate shoes.
     The Heart of the Matter

I'll say I learned to read
from the book of tears

learned to pray
          to a God
whose back was turned,
busy praying to his own God
          and so on.
     A Cloth The Colour Of Earth

My thinking, frequently flawed, was that these snippets might give the reader a taste of the tension Porter is able to sustain over the course of this entire book.  It is the quiet we reserve for when we listen to things we don't necessarily want to hear, but we know the importance of the saying.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Hottest Summer in Recorded History - Elizabeth Bachinsky

Today's book of poetry:  The Hottest Summer in Recorded History.  Elizabeth Bachinsky.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibons, B.C..  2013.

Reading Elizabeth Bachinsky's rollicking frolic of a collection The Hottest Summer in Recorded History is a bit like having an exciting conversation with someone new,  someone you are hoping will become a friend.  Bachinsky has an old crone's wisdom and a hipster lens as she pistol whips any pretensions the reader might have.

This Nightwood Editions book was designed by Carleton Wilson and looks both very old and totally modern, ultimately a very attractive book.  The poems are equally attractive.  Some are riffs, some laments, some lists.  Bachinsky is not shackled by structure or formality, she embraces humour and eroticism with a welcome playfulness that never undermines the serious poet underneath.

For example:

Sleeping With Jane
for Thomas Ziorjen

Florence couldn't remember much because she had Alzheimer's
disease, so she moved into her daughter Jane's house - the house
her daughter shared with the son-in-law Florence had traditionally
disliked a great deal.  Now she didn't know him and that felt better.
She didn't know the children, either.  She thought the family bunny,
Spot, was a cat.  Florence said, "What are you going to call that cat?"
"It's a bunny," her grandson said.  "Bunny, That's a good name,"
Florence said.  "It looks just like a bunny."  The son-in-law, a stay-
at-home dad, looked after Florence during the day.  "Who is that
man?" she asked her daughter one night.  "I don't know him,
but he makes a lovely breakfast and I think he's sleeping with Jane."


This is Bachinsky's fifth book of poetry.  Earlier books have been nominated for both the Pat Lowther Award and the Governor General's Award for Poetry.  The Hottest Summer in Recorded History continues Bachinsky's excellent march.  Her poems are an entertaining pleasure, they are without pretence and they are provocative.

One of Bachinsky's poems, The Mountain, appears in a chapbook edited by Jason Camlot for Synapse Press in Montreal called After The Mountain, The A.M. Klein Reboot Project.  I was tickled to be included in the same short collection when it appeared.  Now - it's just like bragging.  And I'm fine with that, pleased to be in such fine company.

Take a look for this book, no way you'd regret it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Afloat - John Reibetanz

Today's book of poetry:  Afloat.  John Reibetanz.  Brick Books.  London.  2013.

The first thing I have learned from blogging about poetry is how little I know.  I have been operating under the illusion that I was well versed in contemporary Canadian poetry.  How could I not be?  I read it constantly, have been collecting Canadian poetry passionately for forty years.  Yet in the last couple of weeks it has been made crystal clear to me that there are scores of well published poets in Canada that I am unfamiliar with.

One such poet was John Reibetanz.  Afloat is his eighth book of poetry, he has been short-listed for the national ReLit Award for poetry and has won the international Petra Kenney Poetry Competition.

Afloat is a multi-tiered investigation of water, a meditation that ranges from the harsh beauty of the photography of Edward Burtynsky and his represented rivers of sorrow -- to the Three Gorges Dam and discussions of how society and culture are shaped by water.

These poems bristle, they are taut.

This is a short excerpt from the opening poem:

The Love of Water

All nature, from the crag windbreakered in granite
that melts into the nuzzling of the clouds' wet snouts.

to the motes of grit that rise up every morning
and dance in a fountain over the windowsill,

all nature wants to be water.  Curled tongues of fire
and sharp tongues of wind stutter and lisp through forests,

longing for the fluency of streams.


Curious George, Nazi tanks, Monarch butterflies, they are all found floating in the ocean of Reibetanz's poems.  Afloat is a book bursting with ideas and imagination, those are always a pleasure.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Steve Kulash & other autopsies - Catherine Owen

Today's chapbook of poetry:  Steve Kulash & other autopsies.  Catherine Owen.  AngelHousePress.  Ottawa.  2012 (Edition of 50)

The poems in this volume come from two Owen manuscripts, Madame Twisto's Beautiful Limbs and Cineris.

"Nostalgia is unethical" says Catherine Owen with her opening salvo in the poem Steve Kulash & other autopsies.  This is Owen's tenth publication and her experience shows.  These are fully formed poems of experience.

"And so they came a-courting in the Greyhound depot,
those torn bits of boys."  -from Decoupage

Owen's poems are peopled by geeks and freaks and whack-a-mole beating children in Vegas.  Barbie and Ken play cannibal games and John Berryman dirges himself past the death of Dylan Thomas.  There is an awful lot happening in these all too brief twenty pages.

"the shushing of the saltless ocean beyond
      the ghost of Madame Twisto--

her beautiful, convoluting limbs"

Owen really does have a lock on the crisp turn of phrase that catches in your mind's eye.  Almost all of these poems contain moments within them that are bigger, bolder and braver than your run of the mill poet.   Ottawa poet and publisher Amanda Earl has created AngelHousePress to promote voices like Catherine Owen's and that is a good thing.

Earl's AngelHousePress are producing attractive chapbooks, Catherine Owen is producing attractive poetry.  This tasty book is just that, a taste of Catherine Owen.  An appetizer.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

when this world comes to an end - Kate Cayley

Today's book of poems:  when this world comes to an end.  Kate Cayley.  Brick Books.  London.  2013.

"Oh there'll be signs and wonders" - folk song Appalachian Mountains

This line appears in a verse of song on the first page of Cayley's first book of poems.  Clearly Kate Cayley is not at all shy about announcing her intentions of what is to follow.

when this world comes to an end is Toronto writer Kate Cayley's first book of poems.  Cayley is a successful playwright and it shows.  Some of these poems and prose poems sound like theatrical monologues.  Not theatrical as in over-emotive and and over-acted, but that lovely place where you suspend your disbelief and are taken willingly into the speaker's world.

A beautiful looking book, designed by Cheryl Dipede.  I believe design matters and this cover is splendid.  So are the contents.

Kate Cayley knows her stuff and is a consummate story teller.  These poems are riddled with fine moments, incredible juxtapositions and an invitation into a world where intelligent play persists.

Silver Cross Mother, 1919

She rides a cart,
medal on brown coat, small hat on head;
she mocks the crowd, waving.

Memory.  Loss.  She is both, she will
harbour both under her ribs, excavate
whatever else was there.  A tight hermetic grief
too close for sunlight to slide through, too spare
for narrative cleverness, a quiet seepage,
as if under her dress
her breasts leaked blood.

Beside her,
waving flags,
some small serious children
who are not hers.


This poem is from the middle section of Cayley's book titled Curio: Twelve Photographs, where Cayley has used a number of photos from the William James Collection of the City of Toronto Archives as a launching point for her fertile imagination.  Cayley riffing is a bit like Pavel Datsyuk with a puck.  Pure spontaneous glee for the observer (as a result of much unseen hard work and practice behind the scenes).

This book is full of the promised "signs and wonders",  Just like the photo on the cover where there is a white horse diving from a tower into the water, the reader gets totally submerged into a new world of Cayley's making, one where Judas survives to a life of quiet contemplation and T.E. Lawrence is forever driving an old Brough Superior through Gwendolyn MacEwen's mind.

Kate Cayley's most excellent debut is a complete pleasure to the senses.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ghost Music - Mark D. Dunn, Fancy Clapping - Mark D. Dunn

Today's books of poetry are:  Ghost Music.  Mark D. Dunn. Buschek Books.  Ottawa.  2010. and Fancy Clapping.  Mark D. Dunn.  Scriverner Press.  Sudbury.  2012.

Ghost Music, Mark D. Dunn's first book is a wonderful discovery.  Anyone who dedicates a poem to Gil Scott Heron is already stepping in the right direction for me, but if you can throw John Coltrane, Wendell Clarke and William Blake into the mix then I am yours.

Dunn delights the reader with poem after poem full of insight and humour.  There may be traces of a dark undertow but Dunn is deft and daring so these poems are more of a celebration than a dirge.

Inflatable Jesus

The cross went up a century ago.
Dear old ladies and gents took coins
from children to make the cross
gaze neon, godly, from the clay hills over Bawating.

Now they pass the plate again
to build a rubber Jesus for that cross.
Put him up there, head lolling in the breeze.
On Ascension Day, they let him fly
two-stepping across rooftops
on his way to an American discovery.

A Michigan hunter bored with ducks
takes his shot just as the crown crests a pine ridge.
The hunter misses, and inflatable Jesus,
borne up by wind, moves
to Chicago through Midwest corn and wheat,
east to New York for Macy's parade.


It is easy enough to see that Dunn is well read and very funny, what sticks as an impression with these poems is Dunn's playful nature while being serious, his dead seriousness with humour.  These are strong, strong poems.

In Fancy Clapping, Dunn's second book, things go from very good to better.  Gary Barwin's excellent illustration on the cover has exactly the right mixture of humour and gravitas, play and prayer, that Dunn brings to his poetry.

This second volume is full of poems like Let Us Now Invent The Past.  This poem is a pistol, all gentle build up and then the hammer at the end.  And Resurrection By Garden Trowel, which is hilarious, timely and a small declaration of sorts.  What is clear is that Dunn is playful but he isn't playing around. These are serious poems full of punch.  Al Purdy would recognize the self taught voice in these poems and approve.

There are a couple of long poems in this collection that could be shorter but that is small complaint next to the glee of the plus column.  If his first two books are this good, and they are, number three will be something to see.  Mark D. Dunn has announced his presence on the Canadian Literary scene with authority.

(to see more about Fancy Clapping

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In This Thin Rain - Nelson Ball

Today's book of poems:  In This Thin Rain.  Nelson Ball.  Mansfield Press.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Toronto.  2012.

Previous to this I've read Bird Tracks On Hard Snow (ECW, 1994), and At The Edge Of The Frog Pond (The Mercury Press, 2004).

You don't so much read a Nelson Ball book as inhale it.  Ball's poetry is sparse.  And in some ways it makes him the best poet out there.  Ball is capable of saying more with less, or as Ezra Pound pleaded, he distills the language.


One end
of a very long train

is leaving Paris
while the other end



This isn't wit, it is wisdom.  There is no pretence, no pontification.  Instead Ball has tapped into a vein of truth through pure observation.  He sees what we all see, the small transitory moments that make up our lives - but there is nothing "small" about his conclusions or observations.

Reading Nelson Ball is like drinking cool, clear, fresh water on a hot day.  Refreshing and necessary.