Monday, April 10, 2017

Strange Labyrinth - Kat Cameron (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Strange Labyrinth.  Kat Cameron.  Oolichan Books.  Fergie, British Columbia. 2014.

Kat Cameron reads twice her age, how else to explain the kaleidoscopic range of her cultural, historical and literary references where she tips her hat, says "how do you do?" to a myriad of misfits and heroes,  markers.  Today's book of poetry was on side from the start.  Strange Labyrinth is as advertised, we enter some strange territory and the exit isn't always certain but Cameron's curiosity and interests have a large span.

And the reader never feels lost.  

Cameron creates poems that have emotional certainty at the heart of them as though they arrived fully formed and knowing which way to lean into the wind.

The Palliser Slide

This rock slide destroyed one side of Mount indefatigable.
The largest rock slide in North America, it was four times larger
than the Frank slide.

Frozen waves, aeons buried in the cresting line.

In a basin, mountain-rimmed, slate-grey ramparts cross and gird, hold
back the inverted sea of sky. Far off, wavering in the foreshortened air,
snow-ghosts climb, flint heels striking fire from shale.

Ammonites spiral time in twisted coils.

Below, the darkness of the firs. A tortured path pulls and climbs
its way past clinging meadows, spots of sun. Frail jellyfish,
Queen Anne's lace, float by bristling blots of red paintbrush.

The air is thin, three thousand feet above the far earth's floor.
Marmots whistle warnings on the wind.


Today's book of poetry hears echoes of Saint Earle of Birney and his beautiful "David" in "The Palliser Slide," if only a frisson.  Cameron's nature capture has the same reverent awe, she makes the panorama present right there on the page.

Cameron works a whole magical lode of tenderness into her Strange Labyrinth.  Today's book of poetry doesn't want to give away any secrets but Kat the C has a thing for Mary Shelley's monster. e.e. cummings, Byron, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Eliot, Pound and Vincent the Goth Van Gogh all show up, Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations sharpen Cameron's tools.  Strange Labyrinth brims with smart lyric animations and host of glamorous accomplices.

Today's book of poetry doesn't want to give the wrong impression, Kat Cameron's earthy poems aren't inhabited by or about the above mentioned iconic figures.  They are all just along for the ride. Cameron is writing about this world and our place in it, the space women inhabit that men don't know about.

Digging out the Twitch

The first sunny day in weeks and I'm in the garden,
digging out thick twitch grass, the heavy dirt clotted deep
with spidering white roots. When we bought this house,
I had plans, even though my uncalloused hands, smooth with
dishwater and lotion, spent the day tapping staccato keys.

All summer, I neglected this bed. Faded vines hang
from the fence, like shreds of forgotten sunsets.
I'm sowing the colours of spring; wanton tulips,
narcissi, and clusters of purple crocuses.

But past failures slow me down. I feel the strain
in my back, my aging knees, the shovel loads of
heavy doubt. All I can do is go on. Now
the gloves are off. I push tiny bulbs into shallow graves
feeling the soft dirt crumble with promises.


Our regular early morning read here at Today's book of poetry was a bit dishevelled today.  I have recently spent a few days working out in the real world with real people.  Once in a while I get work at the Art Bank and it is one of my favourite places on earth.  Picture a large warehouse carefully packed with around 20,000 works of the best contemporary Canadian art.  It's a dreamland.  I worked as an Art Technician for many years, transporting and installing art work.  In recent years I've worked mostly in the Frame Shop.  It is work I thoroughly enjoy.  So my brain and tired old posterior has been toiling hard at the Art Bank.

When I haven't been at the Art Bank I've been in David Lee world.  David Lee is a poet from Texas who now lives in Utah.  Our St. Louis correspondent, Mark Twang, sent us a couple of David Lee's books along with a Copper Canyon Press CD with David Lee Reading from A Legacy of Shadows and News from Down to the Cafe.  Today's book of poetry will be dealing with Mr. Lee in the near future but I've been making the staff listen to his CD non-stop for the last couple of days.  Now everyone around here is running around with a David Lee accent.  Beer bottle on their hip.

The other good, but distracting, news is that the sun is out.  It really does feel like spring and when that happens most of us here in Ottawa get a little sun drunk.  Everyone in town will be out on patios and in shorts by noon.  For all I know it could snow again tonight.

So our morning read was slightly distracted, we opened all the doors and windows for the first time since October.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made sure that we all cottoned onto the strong feminist voice that inhabits these poems.  Cameron isn't burning down the house with strident polemics, she's informing the house because they need to know.  Once Kathryn laid down the law Kat Cameron's poems worked their way around the room, humour popped out when we least expected it, along with Frankenstein, Cameron kept us well entertained.

from Camille

II. Le Baiser

Two bodies.

I long to stroke his back
the soft deep groove from neck
to ass.

His hand holds the hollow
of my hip.

I pull him towards me,
me leg angles
my body closer.

Fused marble.

One kiss banished the lovers to the
second circle of hell.

I wish I could banish Rodin
as easily.


Kat Cameron's Strange Labyrinth isn't really so strange at all.  These intelligent poems "examine the choices women make," flirt joyously with strange dancers, summon memory.  Strange Labyrinth is a powerful debut.

Today's book of poetry will be anxious to see more from Kat Cameron.

Kat Cameron

Kat Cameron was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick and has worked as an ESL teacher in Japan, a substitute teacher, and an editorial assistant. Her poems and short stories have appeared in literary journals across Canada, including CV2, Descant, The Fiddlehead, FreeFall, Grain, Literary Review of Canada, Room, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, and subTerrain. She teaches English and writing at Concordia University College in Edmonton and is currently working on a poetry manuscript, "Lighting over Wyoming," with the assistance of an Alberta Foundation for the Arts Grant.

Strange Labyrinth moves across subtle moods and ideas, as if these were keys on a piano under the deft fingering of a virtuoso. Kat Cameron’s poems disturb our sense of time and distance, as figures in family history are simultaneously standing beside us and vanishing in the uncertain world of memory.” 
     ~Ross Leckie

“An accomplished debut. This is a collection of sweeping breadth with respect to subject matter, locale, and literary influence. Cameron writes poems of quiet elegance, and strategic feminism. Strange Labyrinth is imbued with the ghostly, yet grounded, idiosyncratic spirits of ancestors. Cameron is a poet to watch.”
     ~Jeanette Lynes, Author of The Factory Voice



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