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A poetic love letter to Ottawa: A halt, which is empty by rob mclennan

This beautiful book of poems is rooted in the history of Ottawa, but opens itself into so much more as you read through it. mclennan, a prolific writer, reviewer, and publisher of poetry, lives and works there. The epigraph to the first section, from Sarah Mangold’s “An Antenna Called the Body”, sets the tone, suggesting that we need to realize that we all should begin at a place of “not knowing.” From there, we can reconstruct our own meanings, histories, and personal stories.

Rich and Impossibly Legion: The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry edited by Jim Johnstone

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.

20 Poems: Clint Burnham’s Pound @ Guantánamo

Vancouver poet and critic Clint Burnham’s latest poetry title is Pound @ Guantánamo : 20 Poems: 2005-2014, a collection “composed during wartime,” connecting Ezra Pound’s months in a US Military prison camp in Pisa, Italy to contemporary prisoners in the US Military prison camp situated in the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The twenty poems of Pound @ Guantánamo exist in a space both temporal and geographic, as well as virtual, composing incredibly compact collage poems blending fragments of pop culture, the immediacy of his Vancouver, translation, police actions, colonial legacies, hashtags and a variety of aggressions and oppressions. Burnham writes in a powerful language patter and pattern where densities overlap and collide, as he writes in “HASHTAG@GITMO”:

The Narrative Poetry of Witness: Emily Pohl-Weary’s Ghost Sick

Subtitled “a poetry of witness,” Emily Pohl-Weary’s second poetry collection, Ghost Sick, reacts to a Christmas Eve shooting in her Toronto neighbourhood. As she describes in the opening poem, “Ghost Days”: “After the shooting / I floated through life / ephemeral, near invisible [.]” The poems in Ghost Sick attempt to articulate the way violence intrinsically changes a space, and the people within that space, even those who aren’t immediately affected by that violence. Even as Pohl-Weary composes her narrative quilt, attempting individual poems-as-poems around a single, explosive event, the distance between narrator and event occasionally feels too far.

Who Can Resist?: bpNichol’s Organ Music

  There have been an enormous number of bpNichol titles produced over the past few years. Organ Music is one such volume, a longer version of Selected Organs (Black Moss Press, 1988) that contains one previously unpublished poem. It is constructed of eleven autobiographical sequences of prose poems composed throughout the 1980s on the subject […]

Slow Down and Listen: Lola Lemire Tostevin’s Singed Wings

  Given that nearly a decade has passed since the appearance of her previous trade poetry collection, Site-Specific Poems (2004), there is much to celebrate for the fact that Toronto writer Lola Lemire Tostevin has released Singed Wings. Not that she was idle during that period—much of the past decade and a half of Tostevin’s […]

An alphabet of knots: kevin mcpherson eckhoff's Rhapsodomancy

I’ve been very taken with the explosion of concrete and visual poetry in Canada over the past decade or so, much of which seems to have been encouraged and developed, directly or indirectly, by Calgary’s derek beaulieu, whether through his own ongoing practice, his work through filling Station and dANDelion, or his publishing, both in […]

rob mclennan on John Newlove's "The Death of the Hired Man"

(How Poems Work, October 2004)
This small piece, originally published as a broadsheet by above/ground press, was the last new poem of John Newlove�s to appear in print before his death on December 23, 2003.
At the Ottawa memorial reading for John Newlove in January 2004, I read the poem, causing his wife Susan to later comment on the piece, saying, oh, I remember when that happened.
In a subsequent email about the poem, Susan writes her account: “[W]e were at Deep Springs College, California, for a summer semester and the students and staff had gone off on one of their adventures in the Mojave Desert, or something like that, leaving the Dean, Barney Childs, wives and kids, John and ranch staff to look after things for a few days.
“It was a hot day, and the hired hand who did all the mechanical and such practical work around the ranch and college work was digging a ditch, to lay pipes I think, and he dropped dead of a heart attack–he was an older man, but we were all pretty young then. There were dogs around, and I remember John took charge of it all… It seems to me that he was particularly concerned about the heat, and its effect on the corpse, and the dogs, and whether he could keep them off the corpse; and the length of time it had to stay in situ until the officials had finished their work. Of course, all of this may have nothing to do with the poem.”
Newlove, who grew up in small towns in Saskatchewan, probably knew all too well about hired men, and manual labour, and the foolishness of working in such heat. There are some things a body doesn’t forget….