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Topic: Lise Gaston

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.”

More Lives Than This Plain Desperation: Carolyn Smart’s Careen

Carolyn Smart’s playful and heartbreaking seventh collection of poetry descends into the violent, hungry world that produced and destroyed the fast-driving outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Careen’s opening poem, “Texas, 1930,” is a prelude that simmers, introducing a world of “prison farms with lean and beaten men running before the riders with their guns.” The skillful language that creates time and place is buttressed by newspaper clippings and startlingly sweet excerpts of Bonnie’s own poetry. The many characters run together vocally in tone, diction, and inflection (most movingly Clyde’s brother and fellow gang member Buck, and Buck’s wife Blanche), just as their bodies ran together, sharing cars, liquor, blood.

How difficult could it be to stay here?: Karen Solie’s The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out

Karen Solie’s fourth collection unsettles and exposes the false comforts of stasis. That these are poems of change and travel is evident from their titles alone—“Rental Car,” “Via”—but mobility is temporally as well as spatially contingent. Poems offer transitions in and out of the familiar, whether on foot or through “Google Earth’s invisible pervert.” Distance can exacerbate difference, or occlude it. Thus while the book is thematically tight, it is not preciously so. Invasions become forms of extreme locality, questions of who or what belongs: bedbugs, gentrification, “the seeds of Walmart / sprouting in the demographic.” If “We are all locals now” then no one is. Named places, like “Sault Ste. Marie,” act not only as destinations, but also as sites of constant movement, conceptual as well as physical border towns, their alien-ness exaggerated by speakers always just passing through.