Nothing to Spare: Book of Annotations by Cameron Anstee

From his undergrad days at Carleton University (and the In/Words Magazine & Press trial by fire for all things literary) to his doctorate path with University of Ottawa, Cameron Anstee has dedicated most of his adult life to the crafting and understanding of poetry and the small presses who publish it. It is fitting, then, that Invisible Publishing, a small not-for-profit publishing company of Picton, Ontario, be the one to help bring Anstee’s work to the masses.

In an interview with Ottawa radio station CHUO’s host Mitchell Caplan in 2010, Anstee notes among some of his influences Bill Hawkins, Monty Reid, Michael Dennis and Lisa Robertson, many of whom are known for minimalist and/or crisp approaches to the structuring of their work. More recently, as with most of the work in Book of Annotations, the influence of Nelson Ball’s small, meditative, pastoral-esque poems seem to shine through, like with Ball’s “Evidence: Canadian Winter” and Anstee’s “Harvest.”


seed dropped by sparrows
grows pigeons


groundhogs turn dandelions
to groundhogs

Evidence: Canadian Winter (excerpt)

The butterflies have gone
& I haven’t
heard a bird

in weeks. Breath stays
in the air; lungs

Further evidence of Ball’s influence can be seen in the collection’s beautiful design; the cover art by Megan Fildes, who also did the interior design, is seemingly intentionally reminiscent of the artist, and Nelson Ball’s beloved late wife, Barbara Caruso’s work with two, overlapping rectangles of blue and yellow forming a smaller green rectangle in the middle.

If you are looking for a substantial rainy day read, Cameron Anstee’s Book of Annotations is not the book for you. While it’s a quick read due to the length of not only the poems as well as the lines—usually no more than a word or two—the poems require, implore the reader to return to them again and again for fresh meaning each time. As the poems are so small, one can imagine the amount of care that went into crafting them, paring them down to what is absolutely essential for the takeaway with nothing to spare, as with the six word poem “Reception”: “we listen/to the radio/listening.”

There is a soothing repetitive quality to a lot of the poems, as in “Robert Lx: ‘the air’”:


and the :


of the .

At the same time there is the effect of erasure; space and absence, as well as an almost gentle revving of an engine, pushing the reader forward. It has become a hallmark of this book in particular and perhaps also reflects Anstee’s developing style.

There is also a gentleness the poems in Book of Annotations embody, as with “Stay”: “all afternoon while we talk/among the potted vegetables/the storm does not begin.” This delicate tone is apt as it reflects not only Anstee’s usual disposition but also, it may be safe to assume, his feelings towards his muse (Jenn, to whom all his work is dedicated), who may further bring out this tenderness in him. And if that is the case, Anstee may be like Nelson Ball was in more ways than one.

A long-time fan of Anstee’s work, I have had the privilege to see the progression of his style from early chapbooks like Water Upsets Stone (Toronto ON: The Emergency Response Unit, 2009), Frank St. (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2010), and She May Be Weary (Ottawa ON: St. Andrew Books, 2011). Nominated for Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2019 Archibald Lampman award, Anstee’s debut collection of poetry is definitely worthy of all acknowledgements and eligible accolades.

Shortlisted for the 2016 bpNichol Award and winner of the 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, Marilyn Irwin’s work has been published by Apt. 9 Press, Arc Poetry Magazine,, Hussy Press, Puddles of Sky, and The Steel Chisel, among others. the day the moon went away is her ninth chapbook. She runs shreeking violet press in Ottawa.


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