John Wall Barger’s work has always been lyrical and inventive. His latest, The Mean Game, builds on these strengths, delivering an evocative and challenging book. Perhaps a little less straightforward than his previous publications, the poems in The Mean Game perform more dramatically, more surreally, and more vividly than ever before.
You’ll notice, as you begin reading M. Travis Lane’s seventeenth book of poems, that she is a “seer” in perhaps the truest sense of the word. She sees what is in front of her, physically, but she also sees what was there, in the past, and suggests what might be, in the future. Hers is a poetry of observation, of taking great care, and of minding and recording the small things that are really of the greatest importance in life. Here is a collection that makes you think of your own connection with the natural world, with others, with your memory, and with your loves.
For a while now, I’ve been comparing poet Jim Johnstone’s editorial work—from his chapbooks through Anstruther Press to trade titles through Palimpsest Press—to that of fiction editor John Metcalf (formerly of The Porcupine’s Quill and currently at Biblioasis): you might not be interested in everything they offer, and the work has a distinct flavour to it, but much of it is of a high enough quality to impress. As editors, I trust their judgement, even if I might not care for the work of every writer or title on their roster. From what I’ve seen of the books and chapbooks he has edited, Johnstone’s interest appears to focus on highly crafted first-person metaphor-driven narrative lyrics. With Johnstone, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the way of, say, language-driven or ludic sentences or anything more experimental in those directions. While I’m not always personally drawn to such work, I’ve been drawn to a number of the Anstruther titles, simply due to the high quality of the writing.
Who better to introduce us to Canada’s loopy seasonal carousel than Mark Sampson?
In his CV2/Winnipeg Review take on John Wall Barger’s The Book of Festus, Michael Prior correctly identifies the book’s “magpie eye” toward epic form. Barger’s debt to the 20th century writers Prior mentions—Olsen, Berryman and Joyce—is not in doubt, although given the city-as-man trope in Festus, Williams’ Paterson should be added to that list. These epics, along with the 19th-century Festus by John Philip Bailey and the history of the city of Halifax, are the memories upon which The Book of Festus draws to produce its colourful, light-hearted, and strange dream.
It’s worth recalling that a poet’s biography is mostly irrelevant to his or her poetry. The success of Life Studies, for example, does not hinge on the auto-biographical bric-a-brac of Lowell’s personal experience, nor how accurately (or not) the poet manages to describe, say, the psychology of a mentally ill patient; the poems, when successful, […]