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Topic: poetry criticism

The Poetic Anatomy: Unfurl by Klara du Plessis

Subtitled “Four Essays,” Klara du Plessis’s new chapbook Unfurl has a deceptively simple-sounding premise, which she outlines in a short and informal “introduction”: “Un-furl is a negation with a generative definition. The word’s semantic growth is so strong that its prefix denoting absence is satiated, incorporated, and reinvigorated into verdure.” There is no single focus in the collection. Instead, Unfurl explores and celebrates the fluidity of language and “how poems go together, enter into dialogue with one another, rub up against one another, contrast and scratch at one another as they draw on an archive of an individual’s reading practice become writing.” It is less a formal critical analysis of four collections by four different Canadian poets—Erin Moure, Dionne Brand, Lisa Robertson, and Anne Carson—than it is a meditation and a fascination with freeing contemporary poetics from “corseting language,” as Erin Moure puts it.

Griffin finalist takes us on a wonderful ride: Ken Babstock's Methodist Hatchet

There have been a lot of reviews of Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet, and they’re a pretty mixed bag, swinging from gushing praise to befuddled admiration to downright animosity. And that makes sense. Babstock’s fourth collection is a challenging, confident work that pulls no punches and makes no apologies for deliberately breaking new ground. Seldom emotionally […]

Steely control: Catherine Owen's Seeing Lessons

Seeing Lessons is an ambitious undertaking, a fictionalized account of the life of Mattie Gunterman, a turn-of-the-century BC labour camp cook and nature photographer, who lived as few other women did then—self-sufficient, an artist at the frontier. Mattie set up camp, cooked the stew, saw to the sprat somehow keeping still for the lens, and […]

Poet Vs Poet online: Douglas on the 2010 Best Canadian

Poems ‘for all who are curious’ It can be hard to know how to approach an anthology of this nature. Tuck your question marks into your pocket and just read, hoping—as you do with every new poetry book—to be shown a poem that might illuminate the dark little corners of your life? Pretend you don’t […]

Poet vs. Poet online: Leifso on the 2010 Lampman shortlist

Which came first: awards or great poetry? A chicken-and-egg review of the 2010 nominees for the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry Feature Review ~ Brenda Leifso   Blaine Marchand. The Craving of Knives. Ottawa: BuschekBooks, 2009 Susan McMaster. crossing arcs: alzheimer’s, my mother, and me. Windsor: Black Moss Press, 2009 Barbara Myers. Slide. Winnipeg: Signature […]

Poet vs. Poet online: Keeney on the 2010 GG shortlist

GGs offer dazzle vs. wisdom Feature Review ~ Patricia Keeney   Richard Greene. Boxing the Compass. Montreal: Signal Editions, 2009 Michael Harris. Circus. Montreal: Signal Editions, 2010 Daryl Hine. &: A Serial Poem. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010 Melanie Siebert. Deepwater Vee. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2010 Sandy Pool. Exploding into Night. Toronto: Guernica, 2009 […]

Fidelities: Carmine Starnino's This Way Out

I’m sceptical of the word “progress” when talking about poets and their careers. Progress implies too strong a value judgement, as though, by some objective measure, we can say that practice and the wisdom of age necessarily make for better poetry. There are too many contrary examples of canonical poets whose best work came in their early- or mid-careers to accept the proposition (Wordsworth and Lowell come immediately to mind). I like “career” much better as a verb–swift, uncontrolled action–and, even better, I like “career narrative” as the record of those twists and swerves. _This Way Out_ is definitely a swerve in Carmine Starnino’s narrative, one that draws out a basic conflict that has been playing through Starnino’s poetry for some time. To be more precise, it’s a conflict in the poetics more than the poems: a conceptual tension between “writing about x” and “writing poetry.”

How Poems Work: Excerpt from "On ending a poem"

To come to the end. To stop. Not necessarily the same thing, as far as poems are concerned. In fact, a frequent criticism of a poem is that its stopping place creates a “weak”ending or one that “doesn’t work.” I stumbled into this muddy field recently in asking poet-editors to read and comment on a book I was working on. Critiques of endings dotted the pages, rarely the same view, occasionally even contradicting each other. …

Nimbly probing: Matthew Tierney's The Hayflick Limit

Matthew Tierney’s _The Hayflick Limit_ opens with an excerpt from Joseph Brodsky’s winter eclogue, which in its 13 words raises at least as many questions: if each body “falls prey” to the telescope, is distance the hunter? Is proximity? Discovery? Is being preyed upon a relief from the indifference of time, death an acknowledgment of existence? The brevity and the stab of those lines pries us open, leaving the reader far more vulnerable than the poet, though Brodsky evidently knew whereof he wrote. Even my grumpy expectations are not so high as to compare Tierney to his epigraphist, but what a lesson in how to offer poems to their readers. In this second collection, Tierney offers up our world, from the commonplace to the contemporary to the cosmic, with craft and cleverness, but he shies away from that Brodsky-esque eviscerating evocation. …

Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht

I really wanted to like this book. Love it, in fact. I wanted to love it like I fell in love with Mean Babstock’s first book. Mean was glorious, it was the way and the light, and as I read it years ago I kept thinking, this is poetry one could emulate, this is poetry worthy of putting forward on the world stage, this is the best book of Canadian poetry I’ve read in years. Mean stuck with me, and it’s stuck with others: it’s the yardstick for a certain generation of poets. I know of what I speak: I’ve asked dozens of poets, in the midst of flagging polite conversation, “But what do you think about Babstock’s Mean?” And the reaction is often one I myself can identify with: unadulterated awe.