Born in Toledo, Ohio to Lutheran parents who only gradually came to accept their queer identity after fearing they would be lost to them if they didn’t, Kirby is an amiable, proudly self-identifying queer writer who founded Knife Fork Book (KFB), an all-poetry bookstore, in Toronto in 2016 to overcome the commercial disregard of poets and poetry. Described by Gerald Hannon as “a cross between Jean Genet and a buddha on uppers”, Kirby has compiled a book of mini-essays as an impassioned manifesto that combines diaristic anecdote, vignette, epigram, list, and literary reflection. The book’s cover showing buttons arranged like a penis in outline presages its bold content. Facing the title page is a shot of Kirby photographing what seems to be Keith Haring’s washroom graffiti.
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.
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.
Douglas Burnet Smith is one of our best poets, with collections of deftly created lyrics (especially in Ladders to the Moon and Learning to Count) and a stunning anti-war long work, The Killed. His new book is an anti-war narrative sequence, set in 1915 during World War I, that swirls around the execution of teenaged Private Herbert Burden on a charge of desertion. Narrated by very young Canadian soldier, Lance Corporal Reginald Smith (the poet’s distant relative), the story intertwines Smith with the tragic fate of Burden, one of hundreds so executed.
“I walk in the world to love it,” asserted Mary Oliver, who asserted a connection between soul and landscape. Her words serve as an appropriate prologue to Lorna Crozier’s new collection, which is an inspired coupling of her poetry and full-colour photography from Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy. Crozier is not as dewy-eyed as Oliver was about nature, nor is she as elliptical as Louise Glück, who also has a major reputation as a nature poet. In fact, Crozier may be Canada’s answer to Jane Hirshfield, who, like Crozier, is possessed of delicate reversals and apertures of wisdom.
“The menace of mimicry is its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority.”
– Homi Bhabha , Of Mimicry and Man
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.