Who better to introduce us to Canada’s loopy seasonal carousel than Mark Sampson?
In Weathervane, his debut collection, most of the opening suite’s thirteen poems consider not just what it’s like to go through a calendar year but how best to keep your feet while doing so. “Daylight Savingsˮ opens the book by capturing changes of season and place: “How do you find the new self ⁄ you crave in this city ⁄⁄ when you can’t even stay awake ⁄ long enough to turn your clocks ⁄⁄ ahead?ˮ As well, this poem introduces a brand of humour which resurfaces at unforeseen moments and proves to be, by turns, quirky, hardball, earthy, clownish and dark. Throughout the opening section, Sampson refuses to favour one season over another, which may be a good ploy given Canada’s climatic extremes. In “Dressing in Layers,ˮ “Summer is a Michelin Man sent ⁄ to fat camp in disgrace, a striptease down to a Speedo.ˮ Several poems further in, “Tableauˮ deftly evokes the sensation of standing at a window in a season of slow time. Each verse in this compact January poem can be read as its own breath unit—a good example of form supporting content. Near the end of this section, “Five Guidelines For My Deathˮ offers site-specific sonnet-length tips for a loved one to follow should the narrator die. This poem showcases an irreverent mind cooking up personalized funeral arrangements with gleeful abandon.
Section two of Weathervane introduces the Mark Sampson who can write a closely observed portrait piece or elegy. Well-considered accounts of what it’s like to cross the Northumberland Strait in winter, give blood, or stumble on a certain stranger in reduced circumstances add heft to Weathervane’s eclectic middle passage. These three pieces are foregrounded by “Choosing a Mattress,ˮ a meditation on the needs you never thought a mattress should have to meet. Sampson doesn’t forget that “You must also make your pick ⁄ with lovelessness in mind— ⁄ a mattress broad enough to give room to wars, ⁄ to withstand fifty years ⁄ of loneliness.ˮ In fact, it’s this author’s ability to see the glass as half empty which may have spawned “Cautiously Pessimistic,ˮ a grin-inducer of a poem which goes in fear of “those honest-to-God ⁄ paroxysms of affirmation.ˮ My favourite from section two was “I Am Not Content,ˮ a poem more alert to its sonic possibilities than some of the other pieces in Weathervane. Here, Sampson makes inspired use of alliteration and free association to mount a hilarious critique of Google ad campaigns.
Section three’s “A Millisecond of Gravitasˮ is arguably the book’s most moving piece using tough talk to pull back the veil on male reticence when it comes to matters of the heart, but the poem also functions as a backhanded elegy. There are moments when Sampson’s phrasing grows blurry, as in: “their beseeches an echo ⁄ for the ages of his primeˮ in “Sullivan’s Pond,ˮ or when the second half of a poem about enduring winter (“There Is No Mystery) weighs down its promising first half with an overly prescriptive list of attitudinal prompts. However, those are minor quibbles when cast against the overall energy Weathervane harnesses. This is a spirited debut by a poet who combines keen observation with the metaphoric chops of a serious funnyman.
Peter Richardson’s most recent book is Bit Parts for Fools. He recently moved to Montreal where he finds it hard to stay awake long enough to turn his clocks ahead.
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