Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gulf - Leslie Vryenhoek

Today's book of poetry:  Gulf.  Leslie Vryenhoek.  Oolichan Press.  Fernie, British Columbia.  2011.

Leslie Vryenhoek's Gulf is her first book of poetry but it is not the work of a rookie.  Vryenhoek's poems, fiction and memoir have won the Dalton Camp Award, two NL Arts & Letters Awards and the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem in 2010.

The poems in this volume are very consistent in tone, they have a fierce intelligence and a twist of dark humour.

Dirty Secrets

What if home is just
the taste of dirt
in the woods behind the house
on Clairmont Drive?  Best
at the V where a tree's trunk diverged
into roots that submerged
in that powdery earth.

A raw potato taste, metallic undercurrents
like the blood of a loose tooth, a smell
like the first seconds of rain, of earthworms
offgassing their relief.  Home: elemental
                            and fading as tastebuds.

I licked that soil from my fingers for years
more than anyone suspected, stopped
when we moved to where the mud was coarse
and vulgar.  Grown, I had a lover
with a sandstone carving.  Wet, it hinted
of potatoes and earthworms but eventually
he caught me, my tongue seeking asylum
along the rounded edge.
                           I didn't get to stay there either.


Vryenhoek's poems have a conversational feel to them but she is beyond that and wicked clever.  These poems work as descriptive narrative, and work very well, but it is the swiftly changing current, the ebb of human nature that stirs underneath, this is where Vryenhoek excells.

These are stories we all know but under the subtle hand of Vryenhoek we get to reexamine what we believed to be true.

Leslie Vryenhoek's poetry has moments of clarity that rival Sharon Olds, lyric beauty that old Milt Acorn would have admired.  How's that!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Flicker Tree, Okanagan Poems - Nancy Holmes

Today's book of poetry:  The Flicker Tree, Okanagan Poems.  Nancy Holmes.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2012.

This lovely book has been nominated for the 2013 Raymond Souster Award, and for good reason.

Holmes is the author of four previous collections and is a writer in full stride in The Flicker Tree.  There are moments of hilarity, passages that will break your heart, and a consistent voice of reason tinged with beauty is everywhere.

These are "nature" poems if they have to be labelled but I would resist - this sort of wisdom is universal.

Don McKay said that "Nancy Holmes increases our awareness of what real ecological dwelling might be like.  The Flicker Tree establishes a benchmark among Canadian nature poetry - a book, and a practice, to savour and celebrate."  And he should know, Don McKay is a national treasure.

Toads Are Us

I just read this:
"The planet's health can be measured
by the state of its amphibians."

So, I am proud of the toad in my garden.
My grass and dew are clean.
My shade is certified organic.
The dandelions in the lawn
sing like canaries
in their light green cages.

But toad,
I watch you cling to the lip
of my flowerpot,
and feel a little worried.

You are
trembling and
you look like a piece of my lung
torn out.


Nancy Holmes The Flicker Tree, Okanagan Poems is a tribute to the land and a beautiful offering for us.

This sort of poetic wit, intelligence and splendour is a rare combination.  This book should be savoured.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sucks To Be You, and other true taunts - Suzannah Showler

Today's book of poetry:  Sucks To Be You, and other true taunts.  Suzannah Showler.  Odourless Press. Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

Whoever said that good things come in small packages had it exactly right if they were thinking of this excellent little chapbook, Sucks To Be You, and other true taunts, by Suzannah Showler.  This gem is from the new small press Odourless Press and the careful editing hand of Bardia Sinaee.

Sucks To Be You, and other true taunts has such wonderfully titled poems as I know you are, but what am I?, why don't you go home and cry about it?, do you have a staring problem?, stop hitting yourself, and the soon to be famous takes one to know one.  The glib titles have the proper ring to them and these short poems are snap your fingers tight.

takes one to know one

just because you can't see the fingerling
moulds packed up my nostrils like espresso
grinds, or feel the dirt's mineral sweat haloed
around me like the cellular-thin buffer between
a vacuum seal and its charge, doesn't mean
I'm not dead.  If you've failed to bury me, and
the ants single-filing through my ear canal are,
as you say, all in the mind, that's a testament
only to your clumsiness with ceremony and
gardening tools.  Am I cramping your style?
Paper looks so floppily harmless until you
turn it sideways.  You've used this against me.
Let this be a reminder that the dead bleed, too,
and at greater personal expense.  I don't know
why you're kicking up this fuss.  I've only ever
haunted you in a quiet, mossy sort of way.


Suzannah Showler edits poetry for Dragnet Magazine and won the 2012 Matrix LitPop Award for Poetry.

The design of this Odourless Press book is almost as stylish as the poems themselves.   This all too brief collection (my only complaint) is witty and quicksilver true.  Short and sweet.  The bee's knees.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Happened - Tom Walmsley

Today's book of poetry:  What Happened.  Tom Walmsley.  Book Thug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2007.

If there is a poet in Canada willing to put more on the table than Tom Walmsley I'd sure like to read them.

I don't love each and every Walmsley poem, no one is that good.  But I do marvel when he tosses off a gem like this:

i know you feel so deeply you
can barely exist in this terrible
world & i drive you crazy with
my head in the sand i won't trust
the news i don't need to know 6
people killed in arkansas from a
collision with a truck full of beets you
rhyme off the crimes of humanity &
you are right you are I
always say so you are right
but here's something

when the pizza is 5 minutes late
pay the guy anyway & tip the waitress
even if she doesn't grovel in the
way you require just try it
& really who gives anything like a
fuck when the garbage men took & what
they didn't stop weeping for 2
minutes a day you don't have to dig so
far up your ass to find your soul
leave your deep sorrows take a
breath & try being shallow.


This may be my new favourite poem, my new mantra for life.

With the poem Kid Stuff, Walmsley pulls off a very interesting trick.

danny tucker wore a
leather jacket & motorcycle
boots & carried a
stolen shotgun walking
across the trestle on
a saturday afternoon

we heard the train saw
the smoke & danny kept
walking & the train rolled
around the bend blowing
a high shriek & charged
the trestle they were
face to face  danny &
the engine & he walked no
faster & the train kept
rolling & just when
we were ready to
he reached the end &
stepped to one side
& the train seized the spot
a second later

danny tucker raised his
shotgun & blasted a boxcar point
blank & walked into
the trees never looking back

it was oshawa in 1958 &
i was standing in
the creek next to
jimmy catching crayfish &
suddenly everything in my
life was kid stuff.


The trick is that there is a movie inside that short poem.  Plain language, no big words - but an entire panoramic, a movie where the narrator comes of age, there is action, tension, drama,  mystery, crayfish.

In the long poem Little Honey Walmsley gives us a treatise on sexuality, gender, desire and power.  Once again, Walmsley is braver than most.  His candid voice is unadorned and fearless.

Tom Walmsley is another much overlooked poet.  When he is in the mood his language is a crisp and clear as a laser and baptized water.  Perhaps it is the dark undercurrent that runs through much of what Walmsley writes, for me, it is the light he shines onto the rest of the world that I find so invigorating.

"we want to act with love &
  we don't want to get caught"
                                       From the poem SIN

Walmsley tells us all about it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

day moon rising - Terry Ann Carter

Today's book of poetry:  day moon rising.  Terry Ann Carter.  Black Moss Press, Windsor, Ontario, 2012.

This is Carter's fifth book of poems and Terry Ann Carter puts her money where her mouth is and her heart on her sleeve in this touching book of poems.

Constructed in equal measure from both haiku and free verse poems that compliment each other.  Carter never lets style or structure dictate content but clearly has an agenda in mind as she gives voice to a part of the world she has come to love.

Carter is closely associated with the Tabitha Foundation for humanitarian work and these poems reflect those concerns.  But the poetry is never a forced polemic, there is no proselytizing here.

Where Does What Matters, Begin:
Part One

Three blocks from the Golden Gate Hotel.
No. 239, Street 51.  Headquarters of Janne
Ritskes.  Founder of Tabitha.  Leader.  Mother.

In her second story outdoor office we are
points of a mandala.  Intent in our listening
the sun sears our eyes.  A canvas cloth

raises and lowers according to the hour.
Janne's orientation speech: the KR bloody takeover,
Vong' story, a girl at the time of invasion

if only I could have kept the babies alive, Janne,
I am bad, I am bad.
She knows this talk by heart.  It is her heart.

I look past Janne's shoulder, past the shoulders
of women seated on the cement floor, AIDS
patients from the city, quilting blocks of yellow,

blue, bits of cotton from the exchange bin.
Khmer chatter flies in all directions.
I'm aware of my adult children here,

seated in the circle, the cloudless Cambodian sky
hovering over us, aware of the shy teenaged girl
I used to be, listening to Bob Dylan, believing in karma,

never knowing where it would take me.
Where does what matters, begin?
I see my life come shining

from the west down to the east.
I close my eyes, holding it all in.
My children.  The circle.  The talk.  The sky.

Any day now, any day now
I shall be released.  On my deathbed
it will be the last moment I see.


Terry Ann Carter sees Cambodia as both home to transcendent beauty and with a recent history of unbearably inhuman conduct.  Her poems are a celebration of the best intentions of those who struggle to rebuild decency along with a nation.

The particulars of evil as they apply to Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge haunt that part of the world and these pages.  That Terry Ann Carter finds beauty...

"the falling flower
I saw drift back to the branch
was a butterfly" no surprise, Carter is looking for it.  These poems are about building something better in the world, somewhere better, a place called hope.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Runaway Dreams - Richard Wagamese

Today's book of poetry:  Runaway Dreams.  Richard Wagamese.  Ronsdale Press. Vancouver, British Columbia.  2011.

Richard Wagamese's first book of poetry, Runaway Dreams, is beyond a revelation, it is simply great stuff from beginning to end.

Wagamese, an Ojibway, mines his life as an "Injun" in a world where that overused stereotype carries tremendous burden, weight.  Luckily for the reader Wagamese blows all these stereotypes out of the water.

Wagamese is an accomplished story teller ( He is a published novelist and non-fiction writer.  My wife K just read his book Indian Horse and said it was excellent - and she is a much better judge than I, I'll read it next) and there are several very good long poems in this collection including the rapturous The Canada Poem.

last stanza, The Canada Poem

there was no hope for me after that
the world had come up and flashed me
and shown me that there was more to it
than the brutal isolation of that house
and that magic existed in the open spaces
between buildings and people bent on
making something more out of something less
and all the runaway dreams -
they tried of course, to bend me to their rules
to discipline the Indian right out of me
and with every whack of the belt or band
the bruises they made sure were
hidden well beneath my clothing
they'd look me sternly in the eye and say
"you'll never run away again" and I
would almost laugh out loud because
of course
I'd already left a thousand times
by then


Richard Wagamese may have forgiven some of the injustices systemically forced on him and several generations of his family but he forgets nothing.


For the longest time I believed
that Dreamwoman would be the one
who cared that the starting infield
for the 1965 Boston Red Sox
was Thomas, Mantilla, Petrocellin and Malzone
or that Bob Mosley was
the bass player for Moby Grape
or that the banjo harkened back
to a gourd strung with strings
from Africa's Gambra River
or that the word carousel comes
from the French word carrousel
meaning a playful tournament of knights
or that the thirteen central poles
on a tipi each stand for a specific principle
to guide the lives of those who
lived there

I thought Dreamwoman
would care deeply
about all of that
and take it as important
but it turns out instead
that she simply cares
that I do


Theolonious Monk and others happily dance through this musical collection but never in ways you would expect.  These poems are traditional and thoroughly modern, old stories you've always known and a new bold truth you didn't see coming.

Richard Wagamese has done the unexpected, a book of poetry spoken with an authentic and gentle voice that has all the weight and power of a sledge-hammer.  This book was a discovery for me and every bit as exciting as the first time I read Kerouac, the first time I read Bukowski.  If more books of poetry were like this one - poetry would actually be popular.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blissful Times - Sandra Alland

Today's book of poetry - Blissful Times.  Sandra Alland.  Book Thug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2007.

Usually I read poetry in my study, for me it is the most comfortable place on earth.  The walls are covered with books of poems, art, music, poetry posters, the room vibrates with poetry.

For example, my good friend Stuart Ross (Canada's friend to the small presses and premiere Surrealist writer) gave me a painting by Bill Bissett (who once stayed in our guest room downstairs), it hangs on the wall above a sculpted breast by Toronto artist/Luthier Jeff Menzies and two small paintings by Dennis Tourbin (another friend, painter, and fine poet).

Stuart also gifted me a stunning photograph by Sandra Alland, it could be a landscape of sand dunes at dusk but it is a reclining nude in shadow and it is behind my desk looking down on everything I write.

With that in mind I cracked open Sandra Alland's 2007 Book Thug title Blissful Times.  It seems Sandra Alland finds play blissful.  This book is all about play.  Like a gymnast who is good in every apparatus Alland jumps styles like skipping rope, without ever missing a beat.  As a result Blissful Times is full of constant surprise.


'Better off banging your head on that
lamppost than wishing a big
injection of humanity into some ugly
sodding fascist.'
She yelled this over a pint of ale,
ferociously fiddling with her
unkempt hair. licking those
lovely anarchist lips.

Times like that I lack all poetry
I stutter and blush, feel
my body go lascivious, my brain
exit stage left.  Some politics are that
sexy.  'Hmmmm,' I said, tongue buzzing.



So after her place, I
emptied the recycling, brushed
my teeth, thought of England
in the way only a Scot can.
Then sleep and I sank into each other.

Loving her in my dream was easier,
unless you count the tentacles.  But her
face lacked that pinched thing, her accent wasn't
so posh.  When she spread her many legs,
she said, 'Love is the cure for colonialism.'
I laughed heartily, knowing
love had failed at ambitions far less lofty.
Before I woke up, she whispered, 'Auld lang syne.'


Alland uses all sorts of found texts as the starting points for the poems in Blissful Times - but then puts her considerable playful talents into reinterpreting the world.

There are concrete poems and entries with titles such as After Going Out 2 where we are given an internet address, in this case:
These are worth looking up and listening to.  Alland entertains while she enlightens.

Alland uses text from Samuel Beckett, Di Brandt, Jorge Lara Rivera and many others - but these poems are clearly hers.  Alland masters language with tricks and tickles and makes this collection amusing, full of play but never childish, never trite.

These poems are as surprising as the Alland photograph that hangs in my study.  Picture perfect and pretty on first glance, something altogether different, more radiant, underneath.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unus Mundus - Mari-Lou Rowley

Today's book of poetry:  Unus Mundus.  Mari-Lou Rowley.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2013.

Often times with poems I don't understand on first reading I will make a point of reading them aloud, slowly.  This test is a real back breaker, a Litmus test I employ.  I had to read much of Unus Mundus aloud, slowly.

These poems sound great when read aloud, the sophisticated language reveals its rhythmic structure and also its playful nature.  With such a vast vocabulary at her disposal (if you are anything like me you will  want to be looking up, have to be looking up, more than a few things) - Rowley is extremely articulate.

Unus Mundus is a book in six sections.  There is a  rambling rollick of a beginning with Prologue...In The Beginning wherein Rowley gives us a listing of her considerable interests, and with vigor.  The second section is made up of the Space/Time Dialogues. These extraordinary poems are the imagined conversations between a range of characters that includes Plato, Einstein, Roy Orbison, Ptolemy, Van Gogh, Miro, Copernicus and TuPac Shakur among others. Mari-Lou Rowley is an encyclopedia of vivid imagination.

The third section, CosmoSonnets, continue the readers vast education and we are only half way home.

Sparrow Lust

Arrows glint in the morning sun, flint flaked
to a perfect point.  Between the eyes.  Love
is like this.  A doe goes down with a thud,
spill of blood on white snow.  Its fawn
tumbles into the woods, all legs and fear;
it will be dead before dawn.
Lust of the hunt still fresh and beating,
hunters skin the flesh, or leave it
for wolves, taking only testicles, horns,
a young bear's paw.  Sparrows above
mourn the torn bodies, sing small sad songs
of love and regret.  Not worth the cost
of arrow or bullet, they are trivial and safe.
No lust but song to consume them.


Rowley has a ferociously active and fertile mind and she covers vast territories more easily than one can imagine.  She does this with poetry that challenges and rewards in equal measure.  The remaining three sections fulfill all the expectations the first three build.  This is an experienced poet at the top of her game and in full control.  

Rowley's poetry has won several awards, she has published eight previous collections (I have two, I will now be searching for the others) and she is now currently doing a PhD in new media, neuroplasicity, and empathy.   

Unus Mundus surprised this reader in all of the best ways.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Selected Poems - Tim Bowling

Today's book of poetry:  Selected Poems.  Tim Bowling.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2013.

Starting with Low Water Slack (1995), Tim Bowling has built a body of poetry as solid as an oak tree.  His ear is tuned to the sounds of the world around him and he celebrates it all with lyric charm and intense emotion.

The Last Sockeye
      for my brother

Always I think of the last sockeye,
the one in late October:  blind,
blood-red, half-rotted, so far
from the creeks of spawning
it just lay beside our net
in the silt-grey water - confused
or resting, we couldn't say -
then with one weak push
gilled itself
so we had to roll it in.

The last of its kind for the season;
most had died, or spawned and died,
at least a month before:
though barely caught, I could not gaff it;
we stood in the chill north wind, bemused,
as though we'd been given an early Christmas gift,
red-wrapped and taken
from below the mountains' undecorated evergreens;
we stared at the rotted eyes
and scales like bloodied coin,
a glove of chain mail
after a Crusades slaughter
the living hand still inside.

Three separate instincts
and a whole long winter to forget
your drinking and failed marriage
my loneliness and too often
days of great despair
over things I cannot change
and always the gap between us
as wide as the gap
between the sockeye and its goal;
three separate instincts
with nothing to win
three separate species:
I don't remember what we said
or even if we spoke at all
but the salmon, at least,
knew what it wanted,
so I gave it back to the river,
blind, rotted and doomed,
I gave it back

while we stood in the stern like the last men
and watched the bloody hand of the year wave goodbye.


Bowling has not escaped notice of the critics.  He won the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, has been nominated for the Governor General's Award twice.  He is the recipient of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize.  In 2008, Bowling received a Guggenheim Fellowship in recognition of his entire body of work.  His most recent book, Tenderman, won both the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Acorn-Plantos Award in 2012.

These are deserved.

Although it is almost too soon for a Selected Poems from a poet not yet 50, Bowling arrived fully formed, his mature voice has never wavered.

Bowling is as authentic as it gets, a poet whose work has always excited me.  This Selected Poems will be an excellent introduction to anyone unfamiliar with Bowling.  For the rest of us, a reminder of the power Bowling controls with such grace.  This very human poetry retains the lyric beauty of poetry, carries the emotional weight of history.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Great Canadian Poems For The Aged Vol.1 Illus. Ed. - Michael Boughn

Today's book of poetry:  Great Canadian Poems For The Aged Vol.1 Illus. Ed.  Michael Boughn.  Book Thug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2012.

Northrop Frye said "This is NOT great literature."

But any book with a poem about a beer bottle, Stubbies, is aiming for a piece of my heart.

Michael Boughn is attempting to rewrite Canadian history in his image and does a pretty amusing job of it.

In Great Canadian Poems For The Aged Vol.1 Illus. Ed. Boughn takes on Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Doukhobors, Wawa, Ontario and Wyndham Lewis (to name but a few) with fairly traditional four line stanzas.  The form is fairly standard but Michael Boughn brings a curious twist indeed -- the unbridled play of his vivid imagination that gives full voice and definition to his new vision of the Great White North.

The Mad Trapper of Rat River makes an appearance with Jimmy Stewart and Boughn doesn't blink, but sets them both a place at his marvellous feast.

Boughn colours outside the edges whenever the need arises and constantly surprises with the breadth of his wit.  These poems come on hard, they have sharp edges and I'm sure it is on purpose.  Michael Boughn's poems move forward with unapologetic determination, consistent in their direction, yet it is the comedy that wins over the reader.

This is an illustrated book and as advertised there are pictures that appear as headings for a number of the poems.  A nice complimentary party trick but these poems work on their own.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Everything, now - Jessica Moore

Today's book of poetry:  Everything, now.  Jessica Moore.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario. 2012.

About half way through reading Jessica Moore's savagely sad Everything, now I started to weep.  Bone cracking, voice distorting sobs, while sitting at my desk in my lovely room on a beautiful sunny morning.  I had to quit reading until I could quit crying.

Why the tears?  It is the same old sad story.  Girl meets boy, they fall in love, boy dies, girl grieves.  A story as old as Romeo and as overused as Juliet.

Jessica Moore has made her grief universal in Everything, now.  What I mean, and the failure to properly explain this lies with me and not this loving book, is that her grief is personal but her telling of it universal.  Moore, by allowing us to almost feel her mourning in a tangible way, connects to every reader who has ever felt loss.

Moore frames this narrative of loss with a series of excellent quotes from her own translation of  Jean-Fran├žois Beauchemin’s  Turkana Boy.  These short passages, lines, are the drawstring, pulling tight closure to the tapestry of survival employed by Moore.

Moore never intended to turn her lover's death or her mourning into art but we must be thankful she has.  Everything, now is as Jane Urquhart says:

"a moving testament to a much-loved partner and, by extension, to all those who have died far too soon."

Everything, now  (an excerpt)

And I believed when I woke that this was what your letter was saying
to me: be awake, taste everything; and I thought, maybe I got it wrong
when I said everything, now, becomes a letter to you, the sun on this
spider's web, the mornings moored to seabirds - maybe I got it wrong
and everything, now, is a letter from you.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Grain of Rice - Evelyn Lau

Today's book of poetry:  A Grain of Rice.  Evelyn Lau.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, British Columbia.  2012.

Evelyn Lau is the current Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver, she has won the Milton Acorn People's Poet Award, the Pat Lowther Award, a National Magazine Award and her work has been selected for both Best American Poetry and Best Canadian Poetry anthologies.

A Grain of Rice is Lau's sixth book of poetry and that experience shows.  There are no elaborate fireworks or highly emotive drama in these poems - instead, I would suggest there is a quiet, firm elegance.  Lau is constantly adding light with stunning language to a pallet immersed in grief.

A Grain of Rice is broken down into sections and Part Two of this collection is called Dear Updike.  It is part eulogy, part dirge and all homage to the great American writer John Updike.  It is an exercise in grace sung through a voice of despair.

The book opens with the poem Fortune.


Today on the seawall, the wind spraying
my clothes with stars of salt, the ocean

boiling to a cream froth around blue rocks,
I remember that a man drowned in English Bay,

swimming off one of the rusty freighters,
striking out for the golden shore --

what a paradise this must have seemed to him,
our soft sloping mountains and clean wide sidewalks,

a dream of heaven he reached for and reached for
until the freezing waters swept his body ashore.


Fortune strongly sets the emotional tone for everything that follows.  In A Grain of Rice, Lau, who is also a successful fiction writer, uses all her poetry chops.  From her touching and tender tribute to her hero John Updike through her musings on mortality and home - Lau strikes the right tone again and again.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Metaphysical Dog - Frank Bidart

Today's book of poetry:  Metaphysical Dog.  Frank Bidart.  House of Anansi Press.  Toronto.

When Frank Bidart's most recent book, Metaphysical Dog, arrived I realized Bidart was someone I should recognize.  He won the Wallace Stevens Award as well as the 2007 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.  It wasn't until I went to the shelves and found his In The Western Night, Collected Poems 1965-90 (Farras Straus Giroux, 1990), that I remembered his work.

Bidart might be best known for his meditative monologues, long poems like Ellen West and The War of Vaslav Nijinsky - but what I remembered was the explosive violence and dark horror of the macabre Herbert White.  A visceral poem of such gut punching power that I winced.  Bidart is precise and fearless, he has a resonating and dramatic voice that is constant

Metaphysical Dog might almost be considered more playful than Bidart's earlier work.  I'd suggest the poet has distilled his formidable skills.  There are still the dramatic monologues that delve into moral and philosophical dilemmas, but there is more of this:

For The Aids Dead

The plague you have thus far survived. They didn't.
Nothing that they did in bed that you didn't.

Writing a poem, I cleave to "you".  You
means I, one, you, as well as the you

inside you constantly, talk to.  Without
justice or logic, without

sense, you survived.  They didn't.
Nothing that they did in bed that you didn't.


Short, although not necessarily sweet.  Bidart says more with less more often in this volume.  Bidart is never shy about being emotive, showing emotion, but it never controls his voice.

Metaphysical Dog is a little deeper pool than most books of poetry offer.  Worth every moment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Timely Irreverence - Jay MillAr

Today's book of poetry:  Timely Irreverence.  a blewointment book.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2013.

Today's admission may already be obvious, my poetic tastes tend to the more traditional line.  Experimental poetry often leaves me dumbstruck.  Jay MillAr is not wildly experimental but he is fond of pushing boundaries.

The title poem of this collection:

Timely Irreverence

The snow outside.
White that makes things
taller.  The fence, for instance,
or the branches of the trees,
all their lines layered now beneath
lines that seem thicker than their weight.
I'm inside.  I'm tinkering with these lines
while I wait patiently for the hippies
to die.  When that finally happens
a great weight will be lifted
from our shoulders, and
we will, at last, be free.


No experimentation there but a taste of MillAr's "irreverence".

MillAr doesn't always take the expected poetic route but I identified strongly with his sentiments when he says in his poem The Patience of Dreams, "Today when I awoke I felt so small, as if rounded by ancient history."

Fred Wah, one of our great poets had this to say about MillAr's latest:  Timely Irreverence is a lesson in poetic interrogation and meditation.  These poems layer the quotidian with such tenacity, and with such clarity, that it becomes hard to distinguish the world from the poem.  MillAr folds the practice of the poem into his dailyness and back again in a conversation that literally has the stanza and the book talking to itself.  This is a poetics of the domestic that insists on being present and mindful to the obvious, as simple, and as complex, as "the thought of snow falling."

Louis Cabri suggested MillAr was a blend of Raymond Souster, David McFadden, Edwin Denby but the biggest part made up of Tony Towle.  As I had never heard of Tony Towle I had to go looking.  Towle is described by Ken Bolton in Overland Magazine as "urbane, hilariously ornate, selfconcious, lyrical, discursive, a sensibility that is both Romantic &, at times new-Augustan, Pop & high-brow, thoughtful & playful, rhapsodic & dry.  A really terrific poet."

Louis Cabri and Fred Wah both articulated why MillAr matters, if you get a chance to read Timely Irreverence the ironic MillAr will tell you that himself.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ink on Paper - Brad Cran

Today's book of poetry:  Ink on Paper.  Brad Cran.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2013.

Brad Cran, who served at Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver from 2009 to 2011, gets my vote to be the Poet Laureate for Canada.

Ink on Paper, Cran's second book of poetry kicks the crap out of any second book suspicion.  It is a tiny book that reads like a massive tome.  It is chocked full of wisdom and gravitas and instructions for civilized living.

from Fun-loving Nickleback Policy Machine (With Kittens)

After all, Ignatieff was right when he said that in politics
people are only interested in what you have said
and have little interest in what you mean.


Cran doesn't hesitate to speak politics or polemics, it would seem he has an articulate opinion on everything.

from The Avian Flu

I do like plenty of quiet time but I don't care too much
for being alone.  I suppose we are built to adapt,
to find ways to accept what we don't want to accept;
to look for comfort in small things, if need be.
A mariachi trumpet on your daughter's first birthday,
the friends who arrive with gifts and guacamole
and later sit down to tell you the story of a woman
who lives alone, rehabilitates birds and has invented
a machine to emulate the human embrace.


There are elements of Cran that remind me of the crazy antics of poetic imagination displayed by John Robert Colombo, perhaps if he were co-authoring with Douglas Copeland.  Cran never slows down for the reader to catch up and at times these poems almost overwhelm with candid strength.

That doesn't happen.  Brad Cran is in control of his craft, these poems don't spill off the page -- they gush, flow, torrent -- into the reader's mind, not intruding but entertaining, educating.  This is strong stuff indeed.