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Topic: Jan Conn

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.

A Girl Like You: Dunk Tank by Kayla Czaga

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”).

When “The Spring Light is Like Glass”: Ledi by Kim Trainor

The archaeological excavation of a 2000-year-old woman (possibly a storyteller or shaman) in Siberia named Ledi, and an urgent excavation of the death of a former lover by suicide, are the focus of this fascinating and enigmatic book.

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:

Riffled and Recoiling: Jan Conn’s Tomorrow’s Bright White Light

Tomorrow’s Bright White Light, Jan Conn’s ninth book of poetry, is a slender volume, but its poems offer the same detail density and associative leaps of reason as her previous work. Conn’s title suggests a future-oriented, even hopeful poetics, and though in the opening poem the speaker says, “I am all pause, all / hesitation” (the line pausing along with her), there is little hesitation in the inquiring mind of these poems, a mind willing to enter into the world’s physical and theoretical detritus. But the inquisitive futurity of these poems does rub up against stasis, physical inability, and the inescapable present: more than once Conn traces “our inability to place one foot / in front of the other.” Near the end of the book the speaker tells us: “The continual present is all that is allowed.” The present encroaches on the future so that warnings turn into irrevocable facts: in “Lac-Megantic” Conn’s speaker tells us, “Human community as we know it / already unrecoverable.”


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