Jamie Sharpe. Animal Husbandry Today. Toronto: ECW Press, 2012.
~Reviewed by rob mclennan
Whitehorse poet Jamie Sharpe’s first trade poetry collection, Animal Husbandry Today, reveals lyric metaphor with a wry eye leaning toward the narrative—and the slightly absurd. For instance, as he writes to open the poem “Interview Questions for Nils Luzak, / Classical Pianist”:
What makes us hate
Their jealous eyes?
You ever allegro your father?
As much a collage as a collection, Animal Husbandry is an assembly of stand-alone pieces gathered as a unit in a self-aware mix of styles, shapes, and forms. Sharpe is struck by the physical, and some of the pieces here carry the strength of blunt objects, often swung with more force than might be necessary. Other lines simply fall flat, adding little to the conversation, such as the opening to the poem “Förarbete”:
After the container,
how to recognize
the content –
always held –
if not inscribed upon?
His subject matter is as varied as his forms and he writes about everything from various family members’ lives to cultural references both current and nearly antiquated. How many contemporary poets are still referencing Georges Braque, Brahms, Tom Stoppard, mixed tapes, or Ronald Reagan? It is almost as though he keeps one foot hopping between other ages and is somehow able to bring older references forward and engage with them meaningfully enough that they enter the contemporary. There is an enormous sense of intellectual play here, with poem titles including “Keep Calm and Carry On,” “Allow Me to Be Terrified of Myself,” “Westerns as an Allegory Of,” and “When Nancy Reagan Recommends the Crab Salad.” Sharpe’s poems deliberately trouble the narrative lyric, twist the direction of meanings, and turn expectations of intention entirely askew. Akin to recent works by his ECW compatriots Michael Knox and Jacob Scheier, Sharpe’s Animal Husbandry Today is a book of poems that explores ideas, the sharpest of which read as short narrative essays, slightly reminiscent of Anne Carson’s Short Talks (1992). At the same time, the mélange of poems that fall between the hundred-plus pages of Sharpe’s first published collection are a range of quality and occasionally give the impression of firing wildly towards a particular target just to see what might actually strike. What intrigues about this collection is seeing the number of poems that really do work and wanting to see what might become of his poetry after this first collection is behind him and he is able to further hone some of his obvious skill into whatever might follow.
rob mclennan is the author of more than 20 trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). The Uncertainty Principle: stories is scheduled to appear in spring 2014. robmclennan.blogspot.com