Tomasic & Ganz: a chapbook, a trade book.

Bibiana Tomasic’s slender and focused Revolutions per Minute is an 8 poem chapbook from David Zieroth’s classic The Alfred Gustav Press. Each stapled book has a minimalist design on the cover and the poems are followed by a brief Afterword describing the poetic origins of the text. In Tomasic’s case, these pieces are rendered poignant by her husband (and co-rider’s) sudden death in the same year (2017). Having been reading motorcyle memoirs for some months, and especially having been moved by Neil Peart’s account in Ghost Rider of his extensive bike sojourn in the wake of extreme grief, I was interested in these pieces, all narratives of motion, steeped in geography, quantum physics, the connection to the beloved’s body. My three favorite lyrics were “Two Wheel Tapestry” with its skinny, jagged text that ends “I am changed/by each blade/every strain,” the speed seductions of “Motorcycle Myth” and the erotic physiology of “Wind Woman” who aligns “crest of ilium/with the patella” as “Near Hope she smells/the drops of Isolillock Peak/a katabatic wind.”  The ache to palliate missing is palpable in the poet’s hunger for a diction to also give her incessant movements towards, and away.

*

20180130_141313

Frequent, small loads of laundry by Rhonda Ganz (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017) is a debut collection of surrealesque domesticities grounded in imagined or mythic narratives of often absurd proportions. I loved the cover design with its shiny white stock littered with sketches of clothing and, in the centre, a bird, its breast the same hue as the title script. I enjoyed the poems that held an expansive and quirky lens to the everyday. “In the backcountry, risk of avalanche remains high”, for instance, with its vision of a singular woman exfoliating away the old year, the new one promising “unblemished” days, shortbread awaiting her consumption and, then the weird twist, “the cat’s in the corner,/taking wagers.” Ganz particularly shines when she ramps up her rhythmic intensities with anaphora, as in “The psychopath regurgitates Lao Tzu” (If you have no shame, you can sleep in any bed/If you have no plan, do what comes next) or in “This point of roughness” where she repeats “Solstice” in an invocation and series of requests that turn into a dark spell worthy of Wuthering Heights with the “bosky lover” at the window and the speaker murmuring “Let him in. O let him in.” When Ganz is attentive to form, the poems also elevate beyond their mere content. “Some Days I Regret” leaps from boats to gout to planes to Portuguese and then concludes with “Monster Christ”, the piece tightening through its lunges by the use of internal resonances and a triplet structure.

The book is divided into seven days of the week, each preceded by a quote from a popular song, beginning with Jane Siberry and concluding with Hawksley Workman. With echoes of Stuart Ross, Mary Ruefle, and Karen Solie, Ganz often iterates in unyielding tones, sharply delineating a situation, leaving little room for feeling, before moving on. Her poem about poets keeping score regarding the symbologies in their “dead mother” poems underscores the harsh ridiculousness of the literary scene, while a piece such as “Why I don’t have children” combos epidemics with such superficial (or are they?) reasons like “I have spent the last hour searching for my keys,” both types of pieces proferring a scathing detachment in tone and intent. There aren’t a wealth of lines that stand out, aurally speaking, in this book (one that jumped towards me was “under the cedar shingles/ice crystals grew, tiny as amoeba, insidious/as a crowbar”); the strength is in the imaginings, little bitter, delicious stories of the everyday impossible, wet loads of strange garments we cannot help but cloathe ourselves in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Standard

Last Marrow Review of 2017: Glauber & Noyes

Well, it’s the end of 2017. Whatever that means. Apparently I’ve posted over 50 Marrow reviews, the majority of books bequeathed to me by publishers or poets themselves and only rarely do I opt out of reviewing them, usually because my  need to be utterly honest is at odds with the subject matter (should one dissect bad cancer poems?) or I just couldn’t finish the book as I kept hurling it across the room instead. Visually-speaking, Gary Glauber’s Worth the Candle (Five Oaks Press, 2017) with its self-published glossy wrongness of design, initially made me feel thus. Irked beyond hope of even cracking the cover. However, on determining to pair his volume with an un-reviewed gift-book from 2014, Steve Noyes’ Small Data, a matte olive text from Frog Hollow, I finally started reading. Those of you who follow my reviews will know I consistently seek out a few attributes, regardless of style: aurality, an attention to form of whatever kind and a risk of some type in the materials.

Glauber is quite aware of the stanza’s play on the page, working in numerical sequences, triplets and even sestinas. Yet a wordiness overwhelms many poems, a didactic slamming down of language that does the proverbial telling, not showing, in the manner of a John Dryden mixed with Chad Norman flavoured with a saucy twist of PC Catullus. Although truisms like, “Logic has no claim on matters of the heart” retain a certain potency, they aren’t poetry, Glauber shining more in narrative-based surreal encounter pieces such as The Mix-Up or brief sketches like Simile, many poems offering definite chunks of possibility as in: “This is your ritual,/your misplaced metaphor,/the wreckage of your urban/ constellation, gone sadly awry/in an uncharted midnight sky,/searching for meaning/in this 24/7 universe” amid the bland, pat pontificating of the abstract quotidian (“such is nature…such is life”). Sound is somewhat starved in most poems, though Glauber has potential as evidenced by moments (“trifecta pick…Aquaduct” or “chatty…raffish”) where his ear is attuned to resonances. “Back then” is Glauber’s main theme: old loves, past travels, and a nostalgia for a time pre the internet’s “artless selfies.” All valid. But more potently expressed in the sensory and musical rather than talky tracts rife with cliches “drying on the afternoon breeze.”

20171222_221858.jpg

Noyes, by contrast, might even lunge too utterly and exuberantly into the aural realm at times in his 30-ish page text, with such deliciously obscure statements as “Statistics is the description of abscissae.” Noyes’ experience as a policy analyst, his travels and languages and his steeping in a range of texts from Rilke to the Quran give his lyricisms a richness not frequently found in Canpo. His piece featuring his dying father’s dwindling Scots brogue is certainly moving, but Noyes works more solidly in the mind than the moosh, able to draw the reader into numerial dessications, artificial hips and dull symposia through a combo of his dry, ironic humour and the sounds he smooshes together (“complements the pong/of kiwi slices…the music of an oyster-luminescent instrument”). Corporations cruelly humanize in Orwellian sketches; citizens vivify in neologistic descriptors (“skingloss & hairsheen”) along with the colliding of Latinate and Anglosaxon verbiage (“filibustering…saint…echelon…monster…ebulliance”). Small Data reels us into unfamiliar, yet compelling, vistas, ones we may have even been resistent to were it not for Noyes’ facility with a lexical lasso that relentlessly whirls us in.

So why do I review poetry books again? Certainly not for pay, fame or even friends. As I discussed in my interview compendium The Other 23 and a Half Hours or Everything You Wanted to Know that your MFA didn’t Teach You (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015), because it matters to authors and their audiences, it increases our critical vocabularies and sense of lyrical community, and it shows respect for poetry as an art form.  And hell, I enjoy doing it. Though it only rarely compels reactions such as those from Bramer and Roberts who, respectively, recently wrote that my reviews are “pleasurable and elastic and vigorous” and that reading a review by me is “like entering into a conversation about poetry itself.” Thank you. Now these are X-mas presents I am happy to receive! To a lyrically charged 2018 everyone 🙂

catherine-owen

Standard

Mothering/Grieving: The Poems of Roberts & Bramer

Steeped as we are in ironies, complexities and a continued dismissal of women who write domesticized verse, the composition of superficially simple poems to children, parents, and the land one is grounded upon in quotidian dailiness, almost assumes an odd mantle of bravery, like drinking water when everyone else is sipping supercilious Camparis with lime.  Both Clea Roberts in Auguries (Brick Books, 2017) and Shannon Bramer in Precious Energy (BookThug, 2017) have written slim, delicious books (Bramer’s more than Roberts’, visually speaking, as it is sleeker, a sweet little crow-gowned design, lacking Auguries blank page-padding, though the cover is also arrestingly crow-smattered). In both, the fraught arts of relationship are paramount. Roberts’ lyricism flows from the Crozier/Nowlan/Pittman vein, featuring pure adjectives, direct nouns and a bit of a sting of distances, leavings, the hardscrabble light, crackling lungs and the aching cries of geese. The pieces swell into gourds of soil, sweat, salt while remaining small, singing haunts. The strongest poems are on the death of Roberts’ mother, “Spring Planting’s” litany of grief’s relentless definitions (grief is a slow river…grief is a good scavenger…) and the more specific delineations of her childhood like the detailed memories in “We Loved to Eat at Burger King.” At times, poems such as “Riverine” or “A Small Legacy” made this reader question Roberts’ engagement with form, as even free verse needs aural/narrative-based reasons for varying stanza length. Also the tone of the earlier lyrics can become somewhat soporific as the signified samenesses of dark, moon, pine, sky, child, frost lull one to an excessive calm. But maybe such lullabying is the point. No whizz bangs here but the gentle, necessary sounds of the river at night and the first or last breaths of being alive.

20171218_161127.jpgShannon Bramer also writes about motherhood. But this nurturing role is scored with bursts of surrealism, Heroux or Burdick-like with more of a snippy twinge, as when the speaker becomes a fish who hides “behind the plastic corral reef” her “snout/nestled into painted red stones,” or striated with black humour’s fissures as in the prosey disquisition on marital sex where the narrator unwittingly compares her husband to the cat. Although the language is straightforward and the forms lucid, an underlying tension throbs between the “thinginess” of everything, whether it’s towels (maybe the most memorable lines in the book are: “my towels, on the other hand, look like the towels/ of someone who has given up”), lice, cutlery or spaghetti, and the need to somehow keep creating amid everyday stuffs. Even Bramer’s piece on cancer and its metastasizing ripples mostly focuses on realities such as how, despite the horrors, the almost-absurd need to clean out the fridge persists. The most memorable poems are the aurally-assertive ones, as Bramer is also a powerful playwright, like the “Dirty Little Love Poem” and the dialogic “On Collaboration” (though my fave lyric is still the curiously erotic poem for a snowman who makes the narrator’s nipples “cold and hard/under [her] coat.”) While I would certainly not go so far as the hyperbolic back cover blurb that states: “Bramer has redeemed modern poetry” (what a heavy burden to bear there!), I will say that Precious Energy does provide another crucial take on being a quirky, imperfect and beautiful human in this magical, sad world.

Standard

Two Marrow Reviews on Buckrider titles: Graham’s The Celery Forest and Lubrin’s Voodo Hypothesis

Although the back jacket copy compares the defamiliarized world of the CeleryForest to authorial creations like Wonderland or Narnia, to this reader, the Forest is less a realm peopled by the fantastical than a universe abstracted and distilled by trauma where raindrops fast, stars have faces and owls pluck out breast tumours, a stark, often detached submersal in a dsytopia of organic machines, whose protagonist, leashed to their crude whims, has perhaps only a fairytale respite. One can either foreground the tangible narrative of cancer’s clinical progression, an often tedious process, or one can do as Graham has accomplished and transform a suffering almost beyond language into alternate ways of entering the hell of metastasis and its treatments, that landscape of chemicals and equipment and terror. As Graham states in “Orchid Painting, Room 19”: “Beads, dots, circles – call them anything but cells,” her modus to circumnavigate the diagnosis – by not speaking the terminologies of the disease one is possibly better able to triumph. “Tell the truth/but tell it slant,” Dickinson wrote. And Graham does, this topsy-turvy country of a potentially terminal illness a place she is forced to inhabit and thus decides not to empower by giving it other than her own vertiginous spin, viewing this alien topography with a peripheral gaze, enabling the horrors to turn into often helpfully feathered denizens in a forest of the blandest, most innocuous of vegetables.

20171024_153756

Poems are spells, charms and like Plath’s evocations of tulips or Roethke’s hothouse world, Graham’s collection elaborates a tangle of vegetation, a whir of wings that rarely addresses the disease itself directly, but like a magician refusing negotiation with what is, she weaves around the tumour and away from it. This maneuver is akin, albeit in a calmer cadence, to what Sylvia Legris achieves with the migraine in Nerve Squall, repeating birds, fawns, moons, images that provide a strange poetic environment of both fears and assuagements in which the delvings, necessarily for the psyche’s survival, if not the reader’s intrigue, are slim. And so, the first startling poem in the book:

 

Interrogation in the Celery Forest

 

We shoulder it onto the slab.

It squirms. Water. Electric-white.

 

Raindrops fast into absence.

No bridge as believable as all this.

 

Pliers were used. And absence.

A heart – skewered through skeins

 

of red nets and milk from some aimless

animal on the drowning cloth.

 

Now, intruder, bird’s-eye, pip,

you must answer.

*

While traces of Dionne Brand, Derek Walcott, Shakespeare and other publically-inflected idioms permeate Lubrin’s compelling debut, this collection resonates with a swelling patois-twang, an echoing slave-freeing cri de coeur all her own. From the opening elaborated invocation to Curiosity, the rover expedition to Mars, to the final dense jazz fragments, “Epistle to the Ghost Gathering” (listed oddly as “Galaxy” in the Notes), Voodoo Hypothesis rings out as one unified diasporic epic, a series of expansive lyrics that fuse into a core music, compelling even when superficially incomprehensible due to its culturally-possessed address system that lifts centuries of angst into empowered litany. This Calibanned consciousness is unafear’d of words that make themselves strange: strandy, cobaltous, mauby, utopist, asteroidal, along with the insertion of Creole sounds within English sentences, so “toutouni” is de-ghettoized and enabled to recharge the vocables of common speech. Many poems commence with lines that have that fated cadence like “who else of this wisped sea is” or “the mayfly’s elliptical/end looks like a ruined plan,” lines that feel as if they fell entire into the author’s ear and became her, and her readers’ Virgil, allowing us to enter poems we can trust to take us somewhere essential, even if we cannot always comprehend its lingo, or allusiveness, or genesis.

I only had a bit of an issue with the Notes section because it is somewhat inconsistent with explicating italicized phrases and neglects to state that the line, “wet with a decent happiness” is from Robert Creeley (though many other borrowings are acknowledged so it must have just been an oversight). Regardless, Lubrin’s opus is not only an impressive initial foray, but a crucial expansion of poetic modes and voicings in Canada, an antidote to the predominant narrowings that can occur as language drastically flattens out into utter comprehensibility and the accessible, in the process being starved of its wild sonatas. “If only ever so to bear the beams of love, I am enough.” Yes.

20171024_153025_HDR

 

Bricolage

 

 

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

Fingers the colour of blossom, plucking hibiscus from their mien

While at dusk the leisure star falls from altitude sickness

 

Valley voices sing and somnolent Gods weep protest

Where storm clouds complain but bring no comfort

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

 

Even when the mango birds and children vanish, the poet tells us

Of the common and good in our bones

While at dusk the leisure star falls from altitude sickness

 

In the happenstance of discontent and the mind

Grandmother storytells in flambeau with fireflies

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

 

For years to collect into resumes, orchards, tombstones

And treetops slump beneath their stubborn train

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

While at dusk the leisure star falls and altitude remains.

Standard

Onjana Yawnghwe’s Fragments, Desire

Reviews have been rare lately. I simply won’t review books I don’t think worth reviewing. Doesn’t mean I have to gush over them but if I can’t find much to rave about amid the critique then I won’t bother. Not enough time to expend. With all the focus on those who have MFAs and those who have won awards, more than enough good poets get missed. The unassuming and brilliant Yawnghwe is likely one, indifferent to self-promotion and working in the liminal field of nursing, not teaching in the university where one’s peers often provide the required bumphing. Regardless, as I have repeated many a time, art doesn’t care. And these love poems, steeped in the deep work of Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, transcend any clique, addressing themselves only to the necessity of expressing a difficult desire.

All worthwhile poets are vast readers. And poetry that emerges from a plunging into a text over time can be a phenomenal dual excursion into both illuminating the initial book’s matter and in transforming it through the channels of one’s personal symbologies and rhythms. As the author states in her Notes, twelve years after she was first struck by Barthes, she began this homage to Barthes’ deliciously and tortuously entangled forays into the complexities of often unrequited adoration, fusing his categories and style with her own “subjective experiences and affective vocabulary.” I did wonder why most of his translations of words are used as titles (15. Coeur/Heart) while others aren’t (2. Absence), though deduced this is likely because the French word is equivalent, but this slip in pattern didn’t interrupt this reader’s appreciation for a woman’s re-interpretation of Barthes’ lexicon of love. Yawnghwe chooses not to use the italicized markers of interpolation that Barthes’ does, thus making his intertextuality overt, but instead attends more to boiling the ache down into a lyric, a gist, an essential nub of longing, echoing Barthes, she says, as Barthes reverberated Goethe.

22135420_10159443915805416_4318618308436088961_o

The sequence needs to be entered from start to finish to fully appreciate the song of impossible and yet achieved passion, the poems set against the author’s brother’s random watercolours of mysterious faces and objects behind a cover haunting with Odilon Redon’s singular red boat painting. Kudos to Oolichan Books for keeping the design a simple one. It seems these days that we must be brave to express what is viewed as sentimentality, those feelings of overpowering joy and torment that, from lesser pens is ghastly dreck, but from a craft such as this, the same words shine and sing.

18.

Comprendre/Understand

I reach out for your form in the night.

In dreams I catch brief glimpses of you,

like the sudden brightening of sky.

I don’t know which

room you are in.

Being so close to you dazzles.

The darkest place is the one that is least hidden.

Words: the problem of love.

Love: a problem of language.

Everyone knows that.

 

 

Standard

Mini-Marrow on Lisa Richter

Closer to Where We Began (Tightrope Books, 2017)

Blurb: Richter’s first book traces an intimate diaspora, melding her Jewish heritage from Montreal to Tel Aviv, with her Western stint existing amid “mountains, reflected in puddles” and her current life in Toronto, one threaded through with subtle gestures of love as a couple examines viscera in a gallery, as they cross symbolic suspension bridges and she feels the flower and flame of his hand on her back. Memorial poems abound – for George Harrison, Nathan, Maurice Sendak, Vancouver. Remembering almost has a scent: lush, acrid, irretrievable. These are pieces of young mid-life when possibly a deeper consciousness of death and history twins with continued and reconfigured desires. Inscription, Long Exposure, With your Permission, To my New Grey Hairs and What the Night Brings into Morning are some of my particular favorites in this gently fierce and consistent collection.

Crits: At times, Richter’s language could use greater precision in its descriptors – why isn’t skin once “stretched hospital corner-taut” not “mitred” skin, for instance. Endings can occasionally fall into flat didacticism too as in Blind Date which concludes limply (perhaps apropos to the occasion but I still feel memorable diction and rhythm can be utilized to depict a forgettable event) with, “everyone’s getting sick these days, even in the middle of July.” And (to get snippy haha) I didn’t note an acknowledgment that “She Comes out of Church” was composed during my Other 23 and a Half workshop in TO, 2015. And is, in fact, about one of my childhood memories 😉

IMG_20170415_154404_1

Exemplary Piece:

Khamsin

Nothing in my blue-and-white/flagged past prepared me for the choke/of stories carried on gusts of gritty/ wind. During the khamsin

handfuls of dust adrift/from the Sinai desert rise in red/storms. We inhale distant dunes/that pass through the checkpoints/

of mucus membranes, each granule/a syllable in the name of a village/scrubbed off a map, the earth’s/flesh rubbed raw, weeping salt from/

the cracks, wounds branded into/memory. At dusk, date palms droop/in dark silhouettes beneath the holy/sky’s tourniquet. We breathe in the silt/the land can’t abide to keep still.

[lovely yummy alliterations here!]

 

 

 

 

Standard

Mini-Marrow on Aislinn Hunter

Linger, Still (Gaspereau Press, 2017)

Blurb: A textured brick-red cover stock and an embossed fox certainly encourage the reader to linger, sensuously, over the pages of this latest book of poems by Hunter as do, in particular, the lyrical sequence, OH, HEART and the individual lyrics in I Came to See the Beautiful Things. Hunter is an unabashed Romantic, the poems sprinkled with the awe-struck gasps of OOOOOs, though there’s little simple about her adorations, complexified as they are by the knowledge of mortality, extinction, ruin, loss and other inescapable, but graciously attended to, darknesses. Always poised and precise in her forms, even when her voice is steeped in grief, Hunter is unafraid of turning nouns into verbs or using unusual vocables to enable the reader to inhabit a variant reality that is also very much ours: “Oh age-spotted Earth, do not spite us, unmotor us back to the Greeks/we are already medievaling ourselves/sing a litany of rations, oracles of incalescence…” Recalling the fusion of mourning and rejoicing found in collections like Di Brandt’s Now You Care, Hunter’s Linger, Still, at its most singing, reveals a truly human pulse within the flower’s calyx.

Crits: At times, I found the voice too prosaic (a facility with phrasing that relentlessly soars in her novel The World Before Us) and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the necessity of the Anna K in Newfoundland section nor of the Heideggerian contextualizing of Esk (a writer’s retreat in Scotland), both seeming somwhat slight contrivances in terms of transference and occasion. Or perhaps I’ve just read too many amateurish poems that tread similar ground less effectively for my ears to fully open.

Scan 13

Exemplary Piece: 

Bumblebees, Pinned

There will be a soon we cannot imagine/and words sought for that new colour –

songs that slip out of our heads,/plants we nurture that do not flower.

The sky will turn out its pockets like a street thug,/display its empty hands.

We will walk more miles than we thought possible/to kiss a lip of water.

The news will come in swarms/the broadcasters grown tired.

We will stand in gutted fields stung by/the unholy quiet,

stop speaking of golden things:/sunshine, loosestrife, rows of wheat, corn.

Words become locked boxes we push/ under our beds, store in gun cabinets.

Our laughter as canned as the reruns/pirated through satellite stations.

How easily we were once amused!/Duck Dynasty, 19 Kids and Counting –

the nature show where a man sticks his hand /down the throat of a crocodile and pulls out a radio.

The bees will have seen it coming,/our own fading signal – the distant

and zigzagging static/of our extinction –

now in front of us,/now behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard