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Topic: 2014 books

A Human Miscellany: Jesse Patrick Ferguson’s Mr. Sapiens

Jesse Patrick Ferguson’s third poetry collection, Mr. Sapiens, is a determinedly random miscellany of poems (topics include migraine, drones, Tim Hortons, a mangled bicycle, the butterfly effect, the ultrasound of a son, to name a few). There is some appeal in this, as you can read out of order, grazing as you will, and most readers will find something to enjoy, whether it’s the whimsical mapping of human physiology onto the frame of an abandoned bicycle or an ekphrastic take on Bernini or Klimt. And many of the poems contain a charming quirky humour combined with darker elegy. Take, for example, “Grave Rubbing”:

Wringing a Soft Neck: Roxanna Bennett’s The Uncertainty Principle

Stripped down to only its domestic battle scenes, life is bloodier, more depraved and more terrifying than it is in real time. The violence and trauma of rape, child abuse, battery and addiction relentlessly advance through Roxanna Bennett’s The Uncertainty Principle without pause or breath or respite. The first half of the book is particularly harrowing as poems about sexual exploitation (“I’m everything you’ve wished for. You’re everything I suffer”) are followed by poems about vicious patriarchs (one “bounced the baby until his neck felt soft”), which are followed by poems about mental illness and hospitalization (“This one (symptom) naked in snow, / points the pistol of his fingers to his temple / blows out the hidden sickness”).

Their Elephant is Longing for Hindustan: Nilofar Shidmehr’s Between Lives

Between Lives, Nilofar Shidmehr’s second book of poetry, is dedicated “to all who live a diasporic life.” Raised in Iran, now living in Canada, Shidmehr knows that life intimately, and explores its dimensions through finely crafted poems that pull the reader into a different world.

Experience as Concept: Shane Book’s Congotronic

In the 1990s, the pragmatist philosopher Richard Shusterman proposed an account of art-making and the reception of art as a function of our experiences. His was a more socially-informed inquiry than that of post-structuralism, which posited a constant flux of texts that remains open to changing language contexts or the interplay between a text and other texts. Shusterman theorized against such fragmentation, arguing that aesthetic unity could be a part of our experience of the aesthetic and offering a potent critique of ironic, distanced contemplation and conceptualist formal experimentation and play (often features of post-modern and post-structuralist aesthetics) in favour of art that encompasses social conditions, real life experiences and the emotive appeal of ordinary life.

In the lamia city: Steven Artelle’s Metropantheon

Meet graffitichild. Androgynous flâneur, she/he’s your intrepid guide into the urban underside of Steven Artelle’s debut collection, Metropantheon. (Full disclosure: he and I share the same publisher.) Through graffitichild’s demonic/saintly eyes, you experience “the noble stagger of addicts” and “catscratch legs and red lace” of the goddess of love.