Sarah De Leeuw’s Outside, America collects poems situated on the “outside” – whether the territory lies outside America or outside our doorstep – as well as poems set within American borders – a hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, a catamaran off the coast of Alaska while whale watching. Throughout, elegiac poems on the poet’s father are threaded with poems containing often wry ecological observations of the typical ironies we experience in the Anthropocene.
Jack Spicer urges, in Admonitions, “not to search for the perfect poem but to let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never fully be realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem.” For Spicer “there is really no single poem…they cannot live alone any more than we can.” In Music at the Heart of Thinking by Fred Wah, these ideas come to full life in the uncontainable verse of a long-poem.
In the “Author’s Note” that prefaces Sh:Lam (The Doctor), Joseph A. Dandurand states that his poems “tell the truth of what has happened to [his] people.” He explains, “The Kwantlen people used to number in the thousands, but 80% of our people were wiped out by smallpox and now there are only 200 of us.” He also describes how the voice of the Healer drove him to write the poems: they are the “tale of a Kwantlen man who has been given the gift of healing but also is a heroin addict living on the east side.”
In Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609), the object of desire, whether “fair youth” or “dark lady”—diseased, venereal, degrading—is erased by the poet’s own practice of representation. In Sonnet’s Shakespeare (2019), Sonnet L’Abbé uses a reverse erasure method on her namesake, cannibalizing each sonnet, absorbing them within her own prose poems that flicker with aural ghosts of the originals, retaining words in the same order within her overwriting of them. Similarly, each original sonnet’s syntax, argument, theme, iambic rhythm, pattern of imagery is reworked, worked over, metabolized, raged against, ravaged.
The Super-Kamiokande, a Cherenkov detector, is a large stainless-steel tank holding 50,000 tons of ultra pure water, sunk deep underground in the Kamioka-mine of Hida-city, Gifu, Japan. These conditions make it possible to observe the oscillations of solar, atmospheric, and man-made neutrinos—illustration of the creation of matter in the early universe. The detector also searches for evidence that protons decay; as the Super-Kamiokande home page notes, “if the proton decay is observed it may be possible to prove the GUTs [Grand Unified Theories].” If we believe the scientists (and Google), about 100 trillion neutrinos flow through your body every second.
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.
Maracle’s free verse collection, Talking to the Diaspora, functions as a transcription and song of a life that has spanned decades of personal experience and political activism. The poems modulate from elegy to anger and back again: bones and songs, flutes and drums, are common tropes that run through the poems. There is also dry political irony delivered with cutting wit, as in “Language”:
Kim Trainor begins with a TV documentary: “We watch bright / threads of her dna unwound / and read from left to right // and learn her history. But where is she, /in the blue-stained karyogram, / this desiccated woman // this Beauty of Loulan, this beauty?” “Karyotype,” an unfamiliar word that literally refers to the gene sequence of a species, opens with a series of poems that describe ancient mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin of China, from which scientists were able to extract and analyze dna, and imagines their lives. The poems unfold, a meditation on human life and suffering, moving back and forth from Loulan (and other mummies) to the one who watches: “She is past / caring, her body now a manuscript / of faded letters and soft words // of mourning… I think I may be of her kind…” The still-beautiful Loulan was found in 1980, some 3800 years after she died, along with remnants of a textile culture: “…at the line’s end / a selvedge is quietly formed / like a scar… // So are we formed // along such ancient human drifting lines.”
Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl offers a poetic account of the real-life story of Rebecca Riley, a four-year-old girl from Massachusetts who died of an overdose of neuropharmaceuticals (including Depakote, Seroquel, and Clonidine) that had been prescribed for ADHD and bipolar disorder. Her parents were later convicted of her murder; the prescribing doctor, although no longer practicing, was not tried.
Jesse Patrick Ferguson’s third poetry collection, Mr. Sapiens, is a determinedly random miscellany of poems (topics include migraine, drones, Tim Hortons, a mangled bicycle, the butterfly effect, the ultrasound of a son, to name a few). There is some appeal in this, as you can read out of order, grazing as you will, and most readers will find something to enjoy, whether it’s the whimsical mapping of human physiology onto the frame of an abandoned bicycle or an ekphrastic take on Bernini or Klimt. And many of the poems contain a charming quirky humour combined with darker elegy. Take, for example, “Grave Rubbing”: