Say you’re a poet. Maybe you mean
Hi, I have a lot of feelings.
llllllllllNola Wright. Not All a Dream: The Poet’s Guide to Surviving the End of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
llllllllllBilderberg Trilateral Collective. Legislators of the World: Poetry and the New World Order. New York: Illuminati Editions, 2016.
llllllllllUso Odibus. Last Poet, Listen: On Finding the Final Audience. Windsor, ON: Palimpsest Press, 2019.
Mountains and museums. Rivers and suburban roadways. Water bottles, wheelbarrows, sunflowers and salmon. In Jeff Steudel’s Foreign Park, cityscapes become landscapes become environmental wastelands become personal metaphors, leaping from page to page and moment to moment with a calm, intense thoughtfulness like the morning after a hard night’s drunk. Careful and poised, yet possessed of a certain self-effacing charm and a genuine warmth, Foreign Park is surprisingly complete and mature for a first book.
“No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain,” Susan Sontag wrote, sounding a note of caution to artists who would seek to ally themselves with marginalized people. Can the artist stand with both her subjects and her audience? Which “we” is looking and which is being looked at?
Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl offers a poetic account of the real-life story of Rebecca Riley, a four-year-old girl from Massachusetts who died of an overdose of neuropharmaceuticals (including Depakote, Seroquel, and Clonidine) that had been prescribed for ADHD and bipolar disorder. Her parents were later convicted of her murder; the prescribing doctor, although no longer practicing, was not tried.
Poems about Orpheus are a dime a dozen: I’m not sure any myth has been reimagined more often than that of the ill-fated Thracian poet and singer. So if a poet wants to write a new Orphic hymn, it had better be pretty damn good, or offer something that hasn’t been done before: injecting an Orpheus poem into an indestructible microbe, à la Christian Bök, for instance. Which brings me to the unfortunate group of poems that close the second section of Earth and Heaven, all centred on Orpheus. With the exception of Steven Heighton’s “Were You to Die,” none do anything to enhance understanding of the complex Orpheus myth, a field already trodden, in the 20th century alone, by H.D., Rilke and Milosz to name but a few. Playing with myth, simply for the sake of doing so, can be a problem with myth poetry in general and with this anthology in particular.
Subtitled “a poetry of witness,” Emily Pohl-Weary’s second poetry collection, Ghost Sick, reacts to a Christmas Eve shooting in her Toronto neighbourhood. As she describes in the opening poem, “Ghost Days”: “After the shooting / I floated through life / ephemeral, near invisible [.]” The poems in Ghost Sick attempt to articulate the way violence intrinsically changes a space, and the people within that space, even those who aren’t immediately affected by that violence. Even as Pohl-Weary composes her narrative quilt, attempting individual poems-as-poems around a single, explosive event, the distance between narrator and event occasionally feels too far.
Fernandes lets us enter his poetic mind the way he might let you into his home, and you know at once you won’t be a guest there. You’ll be permitted to browse the bookshelves, to finger the drooping flowers and to examine his half-built machines, asking, “What are these for?” Though the answer may surprise you. “There’s this time I’ve always / wanted to talk about with someone…” Raoul Fernandes writes in the opening poem, addressing the reader like a confidante. Transmitter and Receiver may be Fernandes’ debut but it does not feel like the work of a debutante. Astute, wry and reassuring, these poems contain a gentle yet insistent lesson for us.
Crozier’s bio reads like a Canadian poet’s wish list and her latest and 17th book of poetry, The Wrong Cat, is an achievement in and of itself.
In a season of debuts, Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery builds like a grand finale. It is her third and final book, the last we will ever receive from this maestro of the finely-tuned image. We may never understand how Partridge’s quiet economy can also be dangerously unsettling. In these poems there is a voice sure of its own pitch, telling us of life’s missed chances and the griefs which careen out of our control. It’s like being taken to a cliff’s edge by a guide who calmly elucidates its potential terrors.