Sheri Benning grew up on a farm in central Saskatchewan. During her lifetime, agriculture on the prairies shifted from farms like her family’s 160 acres to ones measured in thousands of acres and cultivated by industrial methods. This powerful book, written with intelligence, love and artistry, is a requiem for a lost landscape, way of life, and community, as well as lost individuals—family, friends, and community members. It is also a heartfelt critique of exploitative techniques that destroy so much in bringing abundance to market.
Blaine Marchand has produced a loving elegiac memorial to his mother who lived for over a century (1913-2016). Kathleen Dorothy, a childhood victim of diphtheria (“the strangling angel”), claimed to have had “a long and lucky” life, though she and a younger brother, Robert, were placed in an Ottawa orphanage after her parents separated and their mother had fled to Montreal. “Adopted” by the Irishes (who had seven children of their own), she learned etiquette, enunciation, and deportment before she graduated in 1931 from Rideau Street Convent, eventually marrying and starting her own large brood. This three-part story is one of perseverance and love: the first (covering 29 years) being Kathleen’s point of view as projected through the poet; the second (spanning the next 12 years) being the poet’s lyrical remembrances; and the third (the mother’s final three years, darkened by old age and the spectre of death) serving as a moving document of last days, where time and memory also reach a point of exhaustion with the dying mother.
Bardia Sinaee’s Intruder is honest and evocative, built from his experiences and ideas into a meticulously curated collection of poems. Intruder quickly characterizes Sinaee’s style as one filled with succinct imagery, a fact that repeated like a mantra as I read and reread the collection. Within a few lines or a single phrase, the speaker of the poem brings the reader exactly where Sinaee needs them to be.
From “The Functions,” in “III: The Lost Children:” “The father is not sure where he stands. He knows there can be changes to the story. Someone will dispatch. Someone will depart, though we cannot be sure who.”
In The Wig-Maker, Janet Gallant’s tragic and transformative memoir-as-serial-poem written in collaboration with award-winning poet and editor Sharon Thesen, the art of wig-making anchors the text as both vocation and metaphor for healing and self-creation. A kind of time-travelling polyphonic bildungsroman, The Wig-Maker narrates a story of graphic violence, sexual abuse, racism, and parental abandonment that is shocking both for its plain-spoken depictions and for its desire to understand the human beings who commit these brutal acts: “My whole life I’ve had this yearning / but loss just comes” (“questions unanswered”). Gallant sings the “moan” of her life and the life of her family through the lyric lineation of Thesen’s verse, like a libretto for an opera soon to be composed.
Award-winning Cree poet Louise B. Halfe – Sky Dancer tells the stories of awâsis (which means illuminated child), weaving tales of child-like humour and Indigenous resistance in her latest collection of poetry, awâsis – kinky and dishevelled. The Cree language has no pronouns for gender, so the shape-shifting awâsis is simply allowed to be and to play in their complexity—as a trickster, a healer, a joker, a nuisance, and an inspiration. Halfe prioritizes the authentic expressions of awâsis regardless of the confines of language or respectability, revealing an unapologetic mischievous trickster of an alter ego.
I live at the corner of the local freight yards, stacked with hulking boxes in sun-bleached oranges and greys, sprawled against the train tracks which cross along its border and over the river. It is at this intersection that I envision the setting for Natalie Hanna and Liam Burke’s joint chapbook machine dreams, published through Collusion Books in May of 2021.
Jude Neale’s ninth book of poetry, The River Answers, is a beautiful testament to the human spirit, the delicate relationships we form with friends and family, and our finding the humanness in one another when things go awry. Her language is evocative, drawing our attention beyond the obvious while at the same time asking us to stay with her in moments that are heartfelt and seemingly ordinary. An accomplished opera singer in another life, it is no surprise to find her words become lyrical rhythms beating out the essence we all are searching for in these difficult times.
Conor McDonnell’s debut collection, Recovery Community, portrays a powerful sense of empathy that is “held down / by stones in pockets” (The Scalded Sea). In cycles of addiction, obsession, and recovery, there is both cause for optimism and a sense of impending doom, knowing that even when the afflicted are on the way to breaking the cycle, “This will never end // There is always / more to come” (Rebar).
Many writers have tried to write about pain, or the difficulty of writing about pain. Phantompains, while not a meta-text that directly addresses these difficulties, nevertheless creates frameworks to talk and write about this sensory experience.