Steven Heighton has published six poetry collections to date and, as he notes in his preface to this selection (from all six, plus fifteen new poems), two of his principal sources of inspiration are dreams and translations. The dreams are “usually in the form of lines overheard, so to speak, in sleep and translated into writing,” while the translations are not simply of other poems in other languages but free expressions of the spirit and character of their sources, modern and ancient, “renowned and obscure.” In his virtuosic debut collection, the Gerald Lampert Award-winning Stalin’s Carnival, which begins with poems about beauty and the body, he builds a powerful centre with translations and meditations spun out of early poems by a young man who later morphs into the sinister Josef Stalin, and then concludes with poems of entropy and decay. His early lyrics express tension, effort, and physical testing, as in “Restless,” where the speaker finds temporary rest, not on banks of the sea, but only after climbing a cliff, only to awake restless again. And a reader encounters an abundance of free translations and what Heighton calls mistranslations in subsequent collections, such as The Address Book and The Waiting Comes Late, with references and ekphrases generated by the likes of Sappho, Georg Trakl, Rimbaud, Paul Celan, Osip Mandelstam, Konstatin Kavafi, Catullus, Homer, etc. In Heighton’s case, the ekphrases double their value by being more than homages or approximations; they have a deft functional role in the totality of each book, as they play with the metaphoric energy of translation as metamorphosis, as in “Endurance” (Stalin’s Carnival) that pictorializes a female swimmer’s dynamic motion, and in “High Jump,” which highlights the poet’s clever way with transforming metaphor, as its pole-vaulter suggests images of dolphin, diver, and gull.
The last line of A.F. Moritz’s poem celebrating spring, “Baltimore May 2015,” reads “in the orgy of imagination.” This is a perfect description of the book itself which visits a variety of themes and subjects in poems that are consistently well-crafted and constructed.
Kayla Czaga’s second book, Dunk Tank, is an intense and intimate exploration of a young woman coming of age that bursts with twists, anxieties, wonderful digressions, and metaphors. Some poems are worded so they swirl on a stick, drizzled with caramel and dark chocolate, others present a narrator who, to borrow from poet Ron Padgett, “rose like a piece of paper on which [her] effigy had been traced in dotted lines whose dots came loose” (“Stairway to the Stars”).
Engraved on every body and programmed to repeat, “twitch force” is a muscle’s “measurement of its energy potential,” so the back cover of Michael Redhill’s new volume tells us. Quirky, unaffected and completely at ease with itself, the whole book is a twitchy learning curve. Section headings alone—Astronomical Twilight, Chemical Drowsing, Core Sample—illustrate Redhill’s edgy range of call and response. While reading you inevitably increase your word horde. You find yourself looking up scientific terms for transformations of various kinds. You laugh. You learn.
A human being denied water will die of thirst in three days; that same human being submerged in water will drown in three minutes. Conflicting impulses―need and power, love and suffocation, healing and destruction―are at the core of award-winning Métis poet Katherena Vermette’s second collection of poetry, which quietly unfolds with the smouldering, smooth-yet-heady, burning clarity most readily found in a mouthful of good whisky.
The prizes and shortlists were not your decision. Let that go. It’s too late to reconsider anything.
Box Kite is a collection of “proto-stories, […] essays, memoirs, or prose poems” by Baziju, the collected voice of Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. The book’s richly descriptive prose acts as a kind of travel journal, drawing on experiences of Toronto, Australia, and—most prominently—China.
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.
Heighton opens his sixth collection with “The Last Sturgeon,” where a man “always walked / a little above his life / not knowing it was / his life, while it waned / from walking-coma / to coma,” introducing a theme of emotional disconnection that runs throughout The Waking Comes Late. In the titular poem, a man laments his knowledge of plant life has come too late to share with his mother, and in “All Rivers Arrive,” a woman weeps over her dying mother, unable to express what she wishes she had while the mother was coherent, before cancer took control. And in two early poems about having a crushed larynx, the speaker considers the things he should have said before his power of speech was imperilled: “I meant to tell you, I / thought I told you / I couldn’t / quite.” In these excellent poems, Heighton shows how technical mastery can merge with acutely relevant subject matter to great effect. In fact, when it comes to language, Heighton is a remarkably efficient poet: I rarely find, as I often do when reading Canadian poetry, myself mentally editing as I go along. Words here are too precious to be left out of place, whether his own or those of others.
There have been a lot of reviews of Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet, and they’re a pretty mixed bag, swinging from gushing praise to befuddled admiration to downright animosity. And that makes sense. Babstock’s fourth collection is a challenging, confident work that pulls no punches and makes no apologies for deliberately breaking new ground. Seldom emotionally […]