All posts filed under: Reviews

Review of Anita Lahey’s “The Last Goldfish”

by Skylar Kay  The Last Goldfish Anita LaheyOctopus Books (2020) ISBN: 9781771963435 Some books are page turners, keeping readers asking, ‘How will this end? I need to know!’ Lahey’s The Last Goldfish was, for me, not a page turner. I mean that in literally the best way possible, however. It has no air of mystery, but still kept me compelled to finish chapter after chapter because of how close I felt to the characters. Lahey explicitly tells the reader about the end result of Anita and Lou’s friendship on the book cover. There are no secrets, only emotional scenes written beautifully that make you wanna call your best friend between chapters, which often end in reading through tears, to tell them how important they are to you.  The reason for the tears is simple—Lahey crafts a story of friendship that one cannot easily resist, as the reader becomes a third person in the lives of Anita and her best friend Lou. Trials, tribulations, highs, and lows—the reader is brought along on every adventure, growing more and more …

Review of Elana Wolff’s “Swoon”

by Keith Garebian  Swoon Elana WolffGuernica Editions (2020) ISBN: 9781771835077 Elana Wolff’s sixth poetry collection uses epigraphs that connote various meanings of “swoon:” The Living Torah’s example of Rebecca’s falling off a camel in a shock of elation at seeing Isaac; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s slow swoon of life creeping back; Robert Walser’s example of a violent delight; and Franz Kafka’s “swooning counts as believing.” Wolff’s abstract cover painting detail (from her own “Elemental”) is a visual swoon of its own in its strong curves that portend something powerful and mood-driven. Building on her compulsion of perception in her fifth collection, Everything Reminds You of Something Else, and its spare, introspective, elliptical, and heart-probing lyrics, Swoon puts the reader “at the crux of wonderment/& tech sophistication,” with poems that are stunningly meditative, ekphrastic, and intense while being musical even in their intrinsic tensions.  The opening poem, “The Months of Flooding,” is a template in its technical devices and strategies, using strong sonic emphases by way of alliteration (“mantic movie music”), internal rhyme (“more rain fell than could drain”), …

Josephine LoRe: poet and photographer, an artist at her best

by Carla Scarano In her career as a writer and award-winning poet, Josephine LoRe, who is based in Calgary, Alberta, is a remarkable example of an independent and committed author. She has published two poetry collections, Unity and The Cowichan Series, where poetry and photography merge, as well as a short story, Cornflower. Her work has been widely published not only in Canada, but also in the US, the UK, Japan, India, China, France, and Ireland. Her parents are Sicilian and she is currently working on a new collection about her Sicilian background. Josephine LoRe has written poetry since she was a child and studied literature and comparative literature at the University of Rouen, in France, and at the University of Toronto. She reads her work at Shelf Life Books, Koi Café, and Loft 112 in Calgary and is a member of the League of Canadian poets, Haiku Canada, Tanka Canada, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and Calgary’s Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. Her life and work are set in a network of creative writing and …

Review of Sabrina Uswak’s “All the Night Gone”

by Ryan Stromquist  All the Night Gone Sabrina UswakStonehouse Publishing (2020) ISBN: 978-1-988754-28-4 All the Night Gone, the debut novel of Sabrina Uswak, is another addition to the pantheon of road trip novels. The story begins with a disappearance:  Maybe that’s why Dill left. Being in a place too small with a sky so big. Hills that gleam in the hot dry summer wind, endless to the horizon. An illusion of opportunity, Charlie said once. (7)  Much of the intrigue in the story comes from the slow unraveling of the mystery that is not only the disappearance of Dill, but also the trauma of the two main characters: Charlie and Ben. Charlie and Ben represent foils in the novel, which helps to propel the tension and plot forward, but also establishes how trauma affects both the repressed and the exposed psyches. While the road tripe genre is adept at showcasing personal journey, I was pleasantly surprised by Uswak’s ability to display her character’s internal trauma as a universal truth.  All the Night Gone is filled with an …

Review of Jillian Christmas’ “The Gospel of Breaking”

by Marshall Gu  The Gospel of Breaking Jillian ChristmasArsenal Pulp Press (2020)ISBN: 978-1551527970  The poems of Ontario- born, Vancouver-based Jillian Christmas’ The Gospel of Breaking range in length, with a few as short as only three lines and others spanning several parts across several pages. Meanwhile, the styles within these poems range from rhythm-focused stream-of- consciousness to prose poems. One titled “the bike poem” is clearly meant to be read aloud when she addresses the “motherfucker who would steal my bike” before calling them a “douche-canoe,” which makes sense given her history as a spoken word poet. And there’s a few experiments with spaces and repetition to boot. All of this might make The Gospel of Breaking seem cobbled together. Might.  There are, however, common themes unifying these poems. For example, memories of her mother and cooking are often presented together. On “(from the ground, up),” Christmas compares herself to bananas, cherries and other fruits and vegetables “growing in mommy’s rainforest garden” (using adjectives more readily applied to fruit as she does), and then later on …

Review of Jane Munro’s “Glass Float”

by Micheline Maylor Glass Floatby Jane MunroBrick Books (2020)ISBN: 9781771315241 Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, claimed Ginsberg, the skin is holy, the soul is holy. In Glass Float, Jane Munro explores the interiority and exteriority of the holy. What is holy when a woman finds herself widowed and suddenly solely responsible for herself: “directly responsible, that is. It’s a galaxy full of dark energy, matter: within you, what’s never been lit?” What contracts and what expands in grief and where does one go when there is no escape from the self?  Munro, through intermittent sparse and dense passages, contemplates eastern philosophy through her yoga journey, and plays with perceptive realities. Anyone with any thin familiarity with these philosophies will find footing. The poetics themselves pose a sort of yin-yang contrast with elegant and solid works suited for Japanese imagism, speckled with denser prosaic mini-essays in paragraph form. The style itself seems to play with the breath of lines, almost mimicking the inhale/exhale of meditation. In this, the authors voice is clear and intimate.  Glass Float …

Review of Ariel Gordon’s “TreeTalk”

by Skylar Kay TreeTalkby Ariel GordonAt Bay Press (2020)ISBN: 9781988168272  First of all, TreeTalk is an innovative poetry collection. While most entries are from Gordon, many others come from quotes or members of the community, as poems were attached to and later collected from an elm tree in Winnipeg. In creating this collection of poems, Gordon slowly transitions from being a writer to being a curator and finally an arborist. TreeTalk seems fairly random in its assortment of poems in the beginning, but as the collection grows and branches out, patterns emerge. The poems work in tandem, creating a discourse about community and therelationships between nature and humans. Gordon uses short forms packed with imagery and depth to produce these patterns, growing the book one leaf at a time in a way that keeps the reader interested the whole time. The connection between plants and humans is in lines such as “I am shrinking like a violet” and in poems which do a taxological breakdown of Winnipeg and elm trees. In some cases, Gordon explicitly compares …

Review of Bob Stallworthy’s “Impact Statement.”

by Tony King Impact Statementby Bob StallworthyFrontenac House Poetry (2020)ISBN: 978-1-989466-05-6  Imagine life interrupted. Your whole world upended in an afternoon. The future is not just derailed, but in question. November 19, 2013 Marilyn Stallworthy collapsed in a Calgary parking lot. A pulmonary embolism nearly ended her life. It did end life as she and husband Bob knew it. Impact Statement is a veritable diary of the almost nine months that followed. The intimate collection chronicles that gestation of a new way of life–from the disbelief to the despair of uncertainty, from the fear and rage, to hope and endearment. The poems progress from what if to what now. This journey no-one would willingly undertake is visceral and tender, questioning and accepting. In the poem that gives its title to the book, Stallworthy writes  I could tell you I want it back…all of it.  He keeps the thought to himself. It’s not a burden he wants Marilyn to shoulder.  Throughout, each new day is a small victory, the latest normal.  That Afternoon, That Conversation, though, …

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 Jennifer Spruit’s “A Handbook for Beautiful People.”

by Kim McCullough A Handbook for Beautiful PeopleJennifer SpruitInanna Publications (2017)ISBN: 978-1-77133-441-9 A Handbook for Beautiful People by former Calgarian Jennifer Spruit is a gentle love letter to the imperfect and broken set against the backdrop of the 2013 floods. A compelling and complicated story of making impossible choices and finding grace, Spruit’s characters are at times quirky and original, at times desperate and violent, but always filled with fierce love for one another. Marla, a young woman with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a free-spirited, often flighty soul, with a strong voice and a murky past that she battles to keep hidden from her emotionally-distant boyfriend, Liam. A hallmark of Marla’s FASD is her struggle to stay focused on following through on attaining even the smallest goal. Marla is late for work, forgets to return from breaks, and is easily diverted from her duties. But she knows for sure that she loves Liam, and that she is good for him, even if he sometimes seems embarrassed and overwhelmed by her. Liam is a straight-laced music teacher …