Shane Neilson, a much-lauded poet, was shortlisted for the Raymond Souster Award for New Brunswick, a technically adept homage to his home province, as well as a symphonic work that is part elegy, part meditation. Dedicated to his deceased parents, his book begins with a poem by John Donne and “Pass By,” a song by Neilson that received Honourable Mention in a regional contest. The combination is instructive, their themes of pain and loss the very ones Neilson has explored in other works. The song foreshadows the poet’s abiding love of place, a fact established not just by the content of other poems but by Neilson’s framing of the collection, where the first specimen is a prose poem incorporated within a historical timeline of New Brunswick history, and where the final poem is the conclusion of a corona sonnet sequence about forms of loss.
Marilyn Gear Pilling’s seventh book of poetry, The Gods of East Wawanosh, comprises two sections. The first (I) emphasizes the book title, following the wayward, messy, traumatic, and poignant lives of one farming family through several generations in East Wawanosh, Huron County, Ontario. The second (II), “The Lives That Surround Us,” takes the reader in a different direction, focusing globally, the poems distinctive in scope and temperament.
Dark Woods is the third offering from Toronto poet Richard Sanger. The collection is deeply honest and somewhat uncomfortable in its portrayal of a dim, ordinary life touched by momentary excitement and its processing of aging, parenting, and mortality. While the book’s language doesn’t deny there are extraordinary moments in life, it doesn’t give way to them: life is confined, limited to what might have been, or may still be. There’s no obvious aspiration to live beyond the shadow of the trees.
Luke Hathaway’s small and beautiful book should be on your bedside table even if it is as heaped as mine. Just 4” by 5” and fewer than 70 pages, the book consists of untitled, spare, and simply-worded poems which evoke the cycles of life, the seasons, and human longing for meaning and connection. The poems expand in your head, opening your mind to matters beyond the day-to-day.
Alexandra Oliver’s deeply conventional poems in Let the Empire Down report on social arrangements: family, home, neighbourhoods, work, and fitting (comfortably or otherwise) into those environments. The mode is formal, and subjects, for the most part, mundane—reading to schoolchildren, having a manicure, taking a bus or train, receiving medical test results – except for the ten poems of the book’s closing sequence, “Movies,” which recount and reframe a handful of movies by Fellini and others.
In Zachariah Wells’ third book, Sum, nearly half of the poems are written, perhaps paradoxically, with reference to the life and work of others. Included in this select brotherhood are labourers and mathematicians, poets and economists, scientists, theists, atheists. The constraint opens up a range of subjects and perspectives through which Wells explores questions relating to states of being and how language can respond to these states. What pressures are put on in alternative psychological or neurological states? What is it to be a deep-sea creature, still trying to breathe, on the deck of a boat? What does living mean after the life you’ve known has been stripped from you?