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Topic: 2016

Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate sells gold for gold: George Elliott Clarke’s Gold

The next logical choice for George Elliott Clarke’s poetry collections associated with colour (there was Blue, Black, then Red), was Gold. The book brims with the musical and learned force we’ve come to expect while managing to feel like a sunset, casting a glow and shadow over his seminal works. The gold sleeve covering the cover, and covered with the chemical symbol, “Au,” is a physical manifestation of his belief, and opening quote, that, “Beauty…is the sole business of poetry.”

20 Poems: Clint Burnham’s Pound @ Guantánamo

Vancouver poet and critic Clint Burnham’s latest poetry title is Pound @ Guantánamo : 20 Poems: 2005-2014, a collection “composed during wartime,” connecting Ezra Pound’s months in a US Military prison camp in Pisa, Italy to contemporary prisoners in the US Military prison camp situated in the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The twenty poems of Pound @ Guantánamo exist in a space both temporal and geographic, as well as virtual, composing incredibly compact collage poems blending fragments of pop culture, the immediacy of his Vancouver, translation, police actions, colonial legacies, hashtags and a variety of aggressions and oppressions. Burnham writes in a powerful language patter and pattern where densities overlap and collide, as he writes in “HASHTAG@GITMO”:

Oathing / Opening: Sandra Ridley’s Silvija

The prevailing atmosphere of Sandra Ridley’s fourth collection Silvija is one of smothering gloom. Comprising four longish movements broken by a series of short refrains, the poems vary somewhat in terms of style and address, but their subject matter returns obsessively to sites of old trauma. Certain recurring motifs (abuse, the death of a child, the woods) flicker past again and again, just out of focus, as if glimpsed through dark water. Because these details are left obscure, it’s natural to wonder if, say, the dead child in the opening poem is the same as the figure buried in the last, or if the images simply rhyme in grief. The fact is, sifting the text for clues is the wrong way to go about it, no matter how the intimacies of its internal conversations might seem to beckon you. Ridley is too controlled and perhaps too cautious a writer to leave in some overlooked key for decrypting the work. Per the publisher’s blurb, the collection “is a linguistic embodiment of psychological suffering, physical abuse, and terminal illness,” which sounds about right. The cumulative effect is abstract, suggestive, like a classical dirge or the drowned, ambient techno of Wolfgang Voigt (Gas).

Adrift in Adulthood: Vincent Colistro Late Victorians

Vincent Colistro’s debut casts an uncanny eye towards absurdity. Late Victorians is a skilled foray into the essential and the laughable, the poems bristling with attention. Colistro skewers and exposes with blithe ease: here is adulthood, there, poetics, nearby, magic, further afield, sex and death. The collection dismantles and demands, managing to adore and flout convention both.

Walking Through the Darkness: Margo Wheaton’s The Unlit Path Behind the House

Margo Wheaton’s poems in The Unlit Path Behind the House are clean, rich in lived experience, and grounded in sharp observations of both the natural world and the realm of human relationships. She avoids many of the mistakes made in a first book of poetry: muddied and laboured metaphors, showboating, self-absorption, and a paucity of content. Here are just a few of the lines that caught my eye:

A Flashing Light in the Darkness: Kim Fu’s How Festive the Ambulance

Canadian-born Seattleite Kim Fu has followed up her much-lauded debut novel, For Today I Am a Boy (HarperCollins, 2014), with a debut collection of poetry. With it, she proves she is no less afraid of portraying emotion and complexity as a poet than as a novelist.

How Festive the Ambulance is divided into five sections, each themed around the relationships her miserably modern characters have with different parts of the world around them, from animals, to loved ones (and things), to culture, to place. Despite the divisions, each poem throughout the book is wound in a tangle of influences and affects, all tied to contemporary lifestyles.

A Rich Salt Wind: Michael Crummey’s Little Dogs

Michael Crummey’s fifth collection, Little Dogs, provides an astute mid-career sampling from a poet-storyteller skilled at embracing all aspects of the Labradorean experience through the eyes of adolescents, middle-agers and elders. The book proceeds chronologically with generous helpings from each of the author’s first four collections, ending with twenty-three new poems. Elegies, persona pieces, list poems, bird portraits, male insecurity lyrics, deathbed vigils and excursions into homebrew inebriation keep this 96-poem whopper steaming down the track.

The Poetry of the Pillow: Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book

At the turn of the tenth century, Sei Shōnagon, lady-in-waiting to the Japanese Empress, wrote her Pillow Book by candlelight. A fragmented collection of lists, anecdotes, and descriptions of daily life in court, she kept it in a drawer inside her pillow of polished bamboo. Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book is a modern riff on Shōnagon’s work: lists, descriptions of dreams, scenes from her life, and bits of research on sleep and the history of pillows together form a funny, intimate and thoughtful meditation on insomnia.

A Medium-Size Critique of Short Sentences: Alice Burdick’s Book of Short Sentences

Book of Short Sentences is Alice Burdick’s fourth book of poetry and her third with Mansfield Press. Like Burdick’s previous offerings, Book of Short Sentences consists mainly of plain language lyric poetry, a surreal half-step removed from reality in its leaps and juxtapositions. My favourite moment of narrative emerges in a (seeming) found poem entitled “Pleasant knowledge (a choral work),” which juxtaposes comment spam with contributions from sweet, lonely, punctuation-adrift internet strangers: “Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. / I found a sea shell and gave it to my four year old daughter / and said ‘You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.’ / She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was / a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.”