menu Arc Poetry Magazine

Topic: 2020

Field Notes: M.C. Warrior’s Disappearing Minglewood Blues

M. C. Warrior’s Disappearing Minglewood Blues documents his life working on the BC coast, as a logger, a fisherman (herring gillnet and salmon seine), and as a union activist. The poems are organized thematically and by work history; section titles signal each theme, such as “Bushed,” “At Sea,” and a section with union poems entitled “Revolutions are Festivals of the Repressed.” As a whole, this collection gives you the sense of a man with a notebook and a pencil in his pocket, recording field notes over the course of a working life, scribbling down impressions after a long day’s work, or during a break or shut down. He captures beautifully the rhythm and seasons of a working man, as well as the dark watchful atmosphere of the coastal rainforest.

House Calls: Tamar Rubin’s Tablet Fragments

Witty and wise, Tamar Rubin’s debut collection, Tablet Fragments, fuses elements of her life as a doctor, mother, daughter, and Jew whose lineage is as varied as her verse. Her lyrics are pared down toward minimalism that nevertheless radiates outward, as her lines and margins leave room for breathing and meaning. From the opening poem, “Home Archeology,” to her concluding “Wedding Ceremony for Body Parts,” synecdoche recurs as a major stylistic component of her medical career and domestic conflicts. Hebrew fonts and backgrounds add resonance to these parts and create a wholeness from the fragments of tables and tableaux.

They Arrested the Windows: Changing the Face of Canadian Literature, edited by Dane Swan

This is Essential Anthology Series 12 from Guernica. I applaud Dane Swan’s bracing, celebratory forward to focus the reader on diversity, inclusion, and active listening as they read a wide array of narratives. It is a reminder to stay alert and keep pushing for change. Here, the focus is on the poetry, spoken word, and fiction of 30 writers from across the landscape of the nation that calls itself Canada. There are no formal sections, but the works move the reader forward in a sine wave of images and powerful feelings. The range of emotions is vast: fury in the face of lifetimes of systemic racism and exclusion; despair and trauma; profound mistrust of institutions; and a lack of respect and dignity that can sear the pages. At times there is strangeness, and other times wry wit; every voice has an essential story to tell.

Self-Portrait in Shadow and Light: A Map of Rain Days by Jennifer Hosein

As the title suggests, poet-painter Jennifer Hosein’s A Map of Rain Days conjures loss and despair. Her paintings and sketches at the start of each section portray a woman turned inward, her back to the world. Her collection is an unflinching evocation of the physical and emotional violence men can do to women under the pretext of love. Her poems, that describe the wounds inflicted by racism, are also visceral and visual. However, Hosein’s love for her mother and daughter shines through even the bleakest of her poems.

A Defiant Discordance of Detritus: Niagara & Government by Phil Hall

In the past ten years (post-Kildeer, pre-Covid), I’ve been lucky to have more than a few chances to hear Phil Hall read in the bars, cafes, lecture halls and ballrooms of the Ottawa and Gatineau valleys. His poetry—his voice—is a marvel. He would put it differently. In Niagara & Government, Hall’s 17th collection, it’s “a discordance / that cherishes & defies.” It’s also a “miserable rant voice,” “honesty’s long squeak,” “unboiled calligraphy,” an “unlikely tongue / I am not ashamed of anymore.” With it, he is “curating strident toward a fable / of leaky worth.”

“Our Telling Teaching Us This”: The World is Mostly Sky by Sarah Ens

In her debut collection, Sarah Ens pulls the reader into a very contemporary world grounded in the natural but wonderfully tuned to the metaphysical. The book’s first section evokes a prairie girlhood of fields and silos, and games that signal dawning awareness of both intimacy and mortality: “we tore mittens thundering / up icy bark” (“Always Trees with the Almighty”). Through the eyes of Ens’ speaker, abuses come to light, and we begin to feel the pressures young women face: “desperately wanting to dig it even deeper” (“Straddled”).

To Tell One’s Name: A New Take on Ghost Face by Greg Santos

Greg Santos’s third volume of poetry, Ghost Face, marks a unique entry in Canadian literature. He is one of few contemporary writers in the country whose breviloquent words paint a big picture.

Dealing the Deck: The Only Card in a Deck of Knives by Lauren Turner

Always read the notes first. The final pages of Lauren Turner’s debut collection The Only Card in a Deck of Knives state “This is not a memoir but an imperfect gathering of personal thoughts.” Imperfection—the blemish that reveals mystery—is poetry, or as Joy Harjo writes, “where there are no mistakes, there is no poetry.” Turner’s post-text warning also includes an admonition from Björk: “don’t let poets lie to you.”

Starting Over: The Marta Poems by Susan J. Atkinson

“This is what you do. You start with nothing and make whatever you can. If you lose it, you start over and try something new.” These are Marta’s words, identifying the essence of her story, its stubborn resistance, its enduring persistence and relevance. Marta is the muse for Susan Atkinson’s new sequence of poems. The work grew slowly, painfully, lovingly out of their friendship and shared revelations, into a book that Atkinson hopes will lend “a universal voice for those who shared Marta’s path.”

The View from the Rear Window: A Different Wolf by Deborah-Anne Tunney

Deborah-Anne Tunney’s A Different Wolf pulls an audacious trick: analyzing Alfred Hitchcock’s films. This device’s inherent problem, though, is that film tends to outwardly describe characters’ journeys while writing often inwardly describes them. Tunney excels doing a bit of both, but in imbuing observations with the personal, she viscerally pulls in readers.