All posts filed under: Reviews – Poetry

Review of E. Alex Pierce’s “To float, to drown, to close up, to open.”

by Joan Shillington To float, to drown, to close up, to openE. Alex PierceUniversity of Alberta Press (2020)ISBN 978-1-77212-453-8 In the last poem of her second collection of poetry, Nova Scotian E. Alex Pierce writes: …Whatdrives the heart – to view a life lived backwards, unspooling. (Page 71) which is what these well-crafted poems do. Pierce creates movements in the rhythm of the estuary of Sable River, where she grew up, opening, closing up, floating and drowning as consistently as moon directs the tides. The musicality of Beethoven and Bach symphony in the background throughout. She draws her reader inside her poetry as she drew herself Inside the music now, shebegins to breathe. The notes carry her. (Page 35) This collection is divided into four sections. The first, To float, to drown, to close up, to open – a throat explores childhood memories of grandparents’ homes, the delicate ecosystem: … soft fragments of rock,each piece worn flat – from shale, from sandstone, from slate,enough mica from granite to make it sparkle – tiny piecesstuck to …

Review of Basma Kavanagh’s “Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots”

by Megan Nega Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots Basma KavanaghFrontenac House Poetry (2018)ISBN: 978-1-927823-81-1 Basma Kavanagh’s Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots is a long-form poem written in earthy quatrains that are woven together with delicate alliterative sound and entrancing imagery. Like streams driven by gravity towards a great body of water, Kavanagh’s narrative quatrains flow together under the weighty contemplation of one ultimate topic—heritage.  Kavanagh’s work nimbly braids three narrative threads—Ahli, Astura, and Ana—through the stanzas. Ahli explores Kavanagh’s Lebanese heritage and family history, Astura binds the oppression of women with environmental crisis, and the third thread, Ana, explores the relationship between poetry, language, and life. The overlaying of story allows Kavanagh to uncover the many histories of her identity.  Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots is a poem enchanted by the science and mystery of creation. Notice how effortlessly Kavanagh blurs the line between the creation of human life and the crafting of a poem: An embryo grows cell by cell, a poem word by word –kalima bi kalima. From a kernel, …

Review of Conrad Scott’s “Waterline Immersion”

by John Wall Barger  Waterline Immersion by Conrad ScottFrontenac House (2019) ISBN 9781927823972 In Waterline Immersion, Conrad Scott enacts the birth of the world using language that shifts tectonically under our feet—histo-geographic, anthropological, geological, mythic, personal—telling every story, all narratives, via Egypt (Horus), Norway (Odin), Iceland (Poetic Edda), and his own genealogy via Denmark, Ireland, France, Scotland. Yes, this book is ambitious. It’s also riveting.  Canadian geology is the central focus. Scott figuratively excavates Kamloops and Acadia and Glacial Lake Thompson—always seeking the heart of the place, keeping history, and “the long view of time” (33) in mind. “We all,” he says, “journey back to the glacier” (30). At times the mythic language of Waterline Immersion echoes Seamus Heaney’s North “leathery old stench of the bog,” (16) and Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems “All memory now / hunches / in glaciers of the mind / as we speak ourselves / into thawing,” (31). Scott’s mentor Don McKay—the book Strike/Slip in particular—was an inspiration.  Scott balances mytho-geological deep-dives with sobering reminders of climate change “Fossil elixirs consumed, / …

Review of Sharanpal Ruprai’s “Pressure Cooker Love Bomb”

by Nikki Reimer  Pressure Cooker Love Bomb by Sharanpal RupraiFrontenac House (2019) ISBN 978-1-92782-383-5  Sex, love and food: the lyricism  The Instant Pot is all the rage right now, but what, exactly, is a ‘Pressure Cooker Love Bomb’?  Sharanpal Ruprai’s second book of poetry, Pressure Cooker Love Bomb, holds the answers. A lyrical, poetic dive into family expectations, arranged marriage, queer love, interracial relationships, and yes, cooking, it explores all the ways that a twenty-first century Sikh woman might find love on the prairies, might keep warm, might keep alive, and might write her own happy ending.  From the gentle epigraph, “create love,” (front-matter) to the final exhortative demand, “#lovemenow,” (75) Ruprai approaches her subjects with unflinching emotional honesty and great care.  Her minimalist word choices belie the impact of precisely chosen words. One rule for cooking offers “take up your rolling pin, yes / the one your mother beat you with” (13). Whole narratives waft out from those words; the weight of love, the weight of trauma. How the same object can be used to …

Review of Laura Zacharin’s “Common Brown House Moths”

by Beth Everest Common Brown House Mothsby Laura Zacharin Frontenac House (2019) ISBN: 9781927823989 Common Brown House Moths by Laura Zacharin is anything but common. Already the first line, of the first poem, tantalizes my senses. The poet’s word choice and use of image are stellar. “Amygdala” is compared to “golf ball innards;” and then, the evocative “loop after loop of rubber strand stretched” (7) becomes the interconnected imagery of loss and memory and grief and sorrow that link one poem to the next and the next. Take the final image of the first poem, for example: “newspapers flapping in a tree” is not only a strong visual in its own right, but it serves as metaphor for small glimpses in different lives, and links to the second poem with “glancing up from his paper, spread out / when she tried to explain how nerve fibres/branch” (8). We find echoes of the newspaper, plus other kinds of papers, such as in “Shadow Twin” (35), we have the character complement to Rosie; and in “A Beginner’s …

Review of Randy Lundy’s “Field Notes for the Self”

by Micheline Maylor Field Notes for the Self by Randy Lundy University of Regina Press (2020) ISBN 9780889776937 Field Notes for the Self, Randy Lundy’s fifth full-length collection, reaches towards that which is just beyond reach. Poetic insight comes frequently and with attentive rich language, musical alliteration, and conscientiousness to both embodied and disembodied detail. In this way, the collection strikes an otherworldly tone saturated with aboriginal and Eastern spiritual sensibilities. Lundy grapples with landscape, memory, dream, the contrasted paradox of individuality and wholeness, where the body is a translator of the landscape itself, such as in “Ceremony”: “A man should not dream of what is dead, or he might never wake; he might walk that path like a vein of silent, silver ore, winding its way among the dark roots of trees.” (19) Lundy resides within the vicinity of the unnamed, with a shapeshifting quality of a veil-walker between the living and the dead, a translator pulling layers of time and space forward and back in wormholes of meaning. His philosophical stance and poetic …

Review of Vanessa Shields’ “Look at Her”

by Sharon Berg Look at Her by Vanessa Shields Black Moss Press (2015) ISBN 978-0-88753-565-9 In Canada, selling 500 copies of a poetry book is considered remarkable. The fact that Vanessa Shields did this between the September 2016 launch of Look at Her and December 2016 is highly unusual. Yet, when you look at the energy this energetic woman put into her book tour, you know she (not the press) pushed the sale of her book until it reached that goal. This is a reward for her efforts, but is it good news for readers? Vanessa Shields is an astute woman who understands her market. Last fall, she organized a series of “launches,” scheduling them in various places she contacted by phone. She then invited authors local to those places to present their work at her book launch in their city or town. She packed her car with a microphone, its stand, and amplifier and then drove all over Southern Ontario. She stayed in the homes of local authors to save on the cost of her …

Review of Rayanne Haines “Stained with the Colours of Sunday Morning”

by Shelley McAneeley Stained with the Colours of Sunday Morning by Rayanne Haines Inanna Publications and Education Inc. (2017) ISBN 978-1-77133-525-6 Tender, sensual and insightful, Rayanne Haines, creates a gentle journey through the complex relationship of mother/daughter and granddaughter with a twist of myth. Adorare Vita Bambina she would say as she kneaded the dough. This is love. (4) The smell of homemade bread emanates on Sunday mornings and fills the lungs with the delicious body memory of love. Haines’ three main characters, mother, daughter, granddaughter travel life’s terrain in poems grounded in ordinary daily moments. Her writing is sensual and rich, you can smell, feel and touch her stories. Haines manages to make every moment palpable. She gently rocks a lullaby of love while her poems thread through trauma and joy. Even though desperation hangs in some poems, it never clobbers, it looms shadowy in corners and disintegrates with tender reflection. Clever phrasing such as, “I was raised to the rhythm of hunger” (5), imparts a subtle paradox of life; the pain of hunger wrapped in the smell of home. Resignation to lust, …

Review of “Writing Menopause” edited by Jane Cawthorne and ED Morin

by Shelley McAneeley Writing Menopause An Anthology of Fiction, Poetry and Creative Nonfiction edited by Jane Cawthorne and ED Morin Inanna Publications and Education Inc. (2017) ISBN 978-1-77133-353-5 What to say or not to say regarding menopause? Cawthorne and Morin’s anthology compiles a melting pot of stories that traverse the emotional landscape of fear, embarrassment, loss, silence, continence, disappointment, divorce, promiscuity, flight, pleads, and humour. It makes me wonder why women share so little of life’s major reproductive events, even amongst themselves. Here is an excerpt of humour that will be sure to make you cringe: …the time she asked me to get slimmer “piss pads” for her because the sticky strip on the wide ones got caught on her hair. “How did it get all the way up to your head,” I’d asked on the phone, and the next day she greeted me at the apartment door with a bladder-leak pad twisted into a bow over her ear. (123-124) Secure in my own anonymity, this book places me safely behind the screen of a confessional where stories spill out pained recollections …

Review of Richard Harrison’s “On Not Losing my Father’s Ashes in the Flood”

by Jannie Edwards On Not Losing my Father’s Ashes in the Flood Richard Harrison Wolsak and Wynn (2016) ISBN 978-1-928088-22-6 There is an invitation, a hospitality in Harrison’s work in his eighth collection. The reader is invited to share the poet’s intimate experience of his father’s life and death, the feared loss, and retrieval, of his father’s ashes in the epic Calgary flood of 2013, and what it means to write, read and recite poetry, to find meaning and purpose in life.   Time and space. Life and death. Expansion and confinement. As the father’s health and memory deteriorate and he is confined to a palliative bed and wheelchair, the poems’ lines spread back and forth like waves that range over a lifetime. In good measure, the hospitality of these poems comes not only from their subject matter but also from these long lines — tiered, indented long lines that are less about creating architectural structures and more about breathlines, about creating space for the reader to inhabit.  In “Small as God,” father and son enjoy …