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Topic: 2017

An Extravagant Mind: Erin Robinsong’s Rag Cosmology

This is Erin Robinsong’s first book and its scope is vast, its premise to somehow gather the cosmos into a bucket an ambitious one. We’re reminded that there’s “no eros / like earth,” and that to be human is to be sensuous. Lines pulse with succulent life, hypnotic in its eroticism, heartbreaking in its frailty. An exploration of life’s many shapes, from polygons and fractals to amorphous entities, leads the reader through a landscape before cities and villages, before humans stamped the map.

Wilding Land Acknowledgements: Phoebe Wang’s Admission Requirements

Phoebe Wang’s Admission Requirements is, from the title itself, a collection inflected with tender irony. Admission, here, appears in all its meanings: the act of letting in; the privilege of being allowed, and the price paid for it; the acceptance of difficult truths. Variations of the word “settler” appear throughout, in double entendres. One could think of Wang’s poetry as an introspective land acknowledgement.

Fragile and Heavy Ho-Hums: Jay Ritchie’s Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie

With his debut collection of lyric poems, Jay Ritchie firmly plants himself in the ever-blossoming terrain of Anglo-Montreal poets. In their uncertain but affectionate grasp of the polis (its sidewalks, bagel shops, and shimmering populace), the poems in Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie are themselves personifications of the commonplace, as the winking narrator unscrews another dépanneur wine by the fountain spray in Parc Jarry.

The Rough Business of Emerging: Allison LaSorda’s Stray

New last year from icehouse poetry, Allison LaSorda’s Stray is the rare debut collection that emerges brimming and whole. LaSorda’s poetry is both specimen and magnifying glass, her speaker displaced by death, the strangeness of becoming, and the realization she is at times more stray animal than rooted human being. LaSorda invokes the natural world―lionfish in a cloudy tank, an eight-point buck among the trees, passerines, mollusks―to tease out the more delicate questions of how to move forward after a loss, how to grow up inside a body.

With the Ears of Wolves Karen Enns’ Cloud Physics

Cloud Physics, Karen Enns’ third book of poems, is an unsettling work of great beauty. Groups of poems are separated by visual fragments—perhaps stand-ins for the spare, elegant cover image, itself a subtle marvel of motion conveyed in hundreds of dots and tiny markings of varying densities, like a choral song, or particles of light and shadow, rising and falling. In the opening poem, “Cloud Physics,” a deep sadness for the present age is rendered as fragmentation, fear, doubt, renewal, and loss. But listen to Enns’ language in the third stanza of this powerful and evocative poem:

There’s Stuff Between Things: Aisha Sasha John’s I have to live

In a conversation with Lisa Robertson, (hosted by BookThug and viewable online), Aisha Sasha John observes that an octopus can see with its skin. Tiny organs in the skin of an octopus, disconnected from the brain or eye, swell in response to light, sending waves of colour across the skin’s surface. John uses this phenomenon to challenge one’s prevailing modes of perception. In I have to live, she posits new modes of perception in seeking to answer the question–Where is the soul lodged?

“A Gift No NDN” or Anyone Else “Should Waste”: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s This Accident of Being Lost.

The end is as good a place to start as the beginning; “A gift no NDN should waste.” This final thought left on the page by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson leaves me with one last ironic and fist-clenching observation about Indigenous sovereignty. Through “satire and sarcasm,” eloquence, and a strong Anishinaaabe lens, her “write what you know” storytelling philosophy is full of humour, truth, beauty, and love – and is always political. Decolonizing moments live within every song and story found in This Accident of Being Lost.

Duty of Care Laid Bare: Shane Neilson’s Dysphoria

Dysphoria, the concluding installment to Shane Neilson’s trilogy on affect is itself a work in three parts. Neilson roots and uproots the reader; switches timelines on a dime; and juggles pop culture, science fiction, and nursery rhyme – often, to the point of vertigo.

Snark, Slogans, and Found Text: Kevin Connolly’s Xiphoid Process

In his previous collections, Kevin Connolly didn’t deny his reliance on found text—he lifted, glossed, and annotated both direct borrowings and inspirations. The more comprehensive recycling that structures Xiphoid Process may indicate the growing influence of conceptual writing and increased use of found text across swaths of contemporary poetry. Connolly’s approach to copying, however, is less radical than recent works like Ken Babstock’s On Malice and Moez Surani’s Operations. Rather, it is a snarkier – yet more formally conservative – poet taking aim at past versions of himself by using his own work as found text.