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Topic: 2016

How Soon Is Now?: Spencer Butt’s Slouching the Dream

This is veteran spoken-word performer Spencer Butt’s first trade print collection, documenting several pivotal years in the poet/protagonist’s life. One thing that spoken word is notorious for is being relentlessly transparent about late-youth crisis material, and Butt covers the territory unabashedly: wondering how long one can cling to the friendships and trappings of prolonged adolescence while seeing relationships mature and the body wear down, sailing on the wind of a damaged, dubious optimism.

Persona Poems for the Outraged: Michael Fraser’s To Greet Yourself Arriving

Michael Fraser’s latest collection, To Greet Yourself Arriving, is the only book of poetry I’ve ever read with a glossary. That Fraser felt he needed one in a collection whose central theme is famous Black men and women could be said to be, in part, an excellent reason for writing such a book. With a rare sort of graceful simplicity, the poet takes readers boldly by the wrist and thrusts them into a room full of voices―a party where inventor Elijah McCoy is having a cocktail with astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson, ex-president Barack Obama listens to boxing heavyweight champion Jack Johnson recount a famous bout and Howlin’ Wolf smokes a spliff while Maya Angelou reads aloud to entertain the crowd.

A Vessel for Shared Experiences: Baziju’s Box Kite

Box Kite is a collection of “proto-stories, […] essays, memoirs, or prose poems” by Baziju, the collected voice of Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. The book’s richly descriptive prose acts as a kind of travel journal, drawing on experiences of Toronto, Australia, and—most prominently—China.

Remembering Abe: Kevin Spenst’s Ignite

Poets routinely mine childhood for their books―especially debut poets. Kevin Spenst’s first book, Jabbering With Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2015), contained some of that kind of material without being a full-scale operation. Yet Jabbering was the second book Spenst wrote that was lucky enough to find publication first. I know this because I read a chapbook-sized version of Ignite many years ago and rejected it for publication at Frog Hollow Press because I did not think it worked hard enough as a poetic (as opposed to biographical) text.

Catch Your Breath: Susan Telfer’s Ghost Town

Susan Telfer begins her second book of poetry, Ghost Town, with a section that includes an inspired suite of poems. With writing that slips in and out of the mythical and the surreal, we quickly learn that the narrator isn’t really writing about the ghost towns that dot the back roads of British Columbia, but instead “your family,” with its “boarded up false fronts at the back of memory.”

Tongue-in-Cheek Stoic: Mark Sampson’s Weathervane

Who better to introduce us to Canada’s loopy seasonal carousel than Mark Sampson?

Riffled and Recoiling: Jan Conn’s Tomorrow’s Bright White Light

Tomorrow’s Bright White Light, Jan Conn’s ninth book of poetry, is a slender volume, but its poems offer the same detail density and associative leaps of reason as her previous work. Conn’s title suggests a future-oriented, even hopeful poetics, and though in the opening poem the speaker says, “I am all pause, all / hesitation” (the line pausing along with her), there is little hesitation in the inquiring mind of these poems, a mind willing to enter into the world’s physical and theoretical detritus. But the inquisitive futurity of these poems does rub up against stasis, physical inability, and the inescapable present: more than once Conn traces “our inability to place one foot / in front of the other.” Near the end of the book the speaker tells us: “The continual present is all that is allowed.” The present encroaches on the future so that warnings turn into irrevocable facts: in “Lac-Megantic” Conn’s speaker tells us, “Human community as we know it / already unrecoverable.”

The Poetry of Mortality: Evelyn Lau’s Tumour

Although Evelyn Lau’s Tumour is a solid poetry collection on a timeless topic, I’m inclined to warn anyone currently suffering from depression to avoid it. Lau’s collection cuts more keenly than much of Canada’s poetry of hurt, slicing through the tissue of artifice, into the marrow of pain.

Giving Voice: Gary Geddes’s The Resumption of Play

Gary Geddes has written a book of voices – voices often suppressed but always necessary – that he takes great pains to understand from inside their specific realities. When I say voices, I refer both to poetic and dramatic technique as well as to the tellers of extraordinary experiences that Geddes seeks out, hears, transcribes and fashions into poetry.

On the Road Behind: André Narbonne’s You Were Here

In his book, You Were Here, André Narbonne deftly tracks his past. His memory process is reliable without being overly, and boringly, explanatory. It skilfully cuts around, rather than trudges through, images and events from his former years spent in Southwestern Ontario. At times, Narbonne recounts in indefinite terms. He recalls holding an older sister’s hand and receiving vague advice from his father who urges him to remember plain “sounds” like, perhaps, the songs he and his sister left “on the road behind.” It’s on this road, which begins during the first poem, “Our Tintern,” that Narbonne nimbly passes through memories of his childhood and adulthood, avoiding temptations to poke and prod along the way.