Sharpest Tooth: a chapbook by Aidan Chafe (Anstruther Press, 2016)

Sharpest Tooth is a beautiful little realm of a chapbook whose cover painting of multitudinous birds in flight from a fox’s maw was designed by none other than my close art-friend Jenny Keith! Such a small world. I don’t often review chapbooks (mostly as they are rarely sent to me it seems) but Chafe utilizes this genre (let’s call it one rather than a format) perfectly, the poems appearing both as individuated, stand-alone pieces (for the most part) and as varied fragments that unfold the twists of a sinister fairy tale where humans get shot accidentally in lieu of deer, depression’s suicides tremble on a family’s margins and a wolf prowls internal forests. Chafe tries on a range of forms and modes to inhabit this necessarily claustrophobic subject matter. I can hear Merwin in Allegory’s repetitions: “Too many guns in the city/too many deer getting killed,” Carson or Hughes in Foxhole Diary: “Crimson coat. Autumn thistle. Burrow ghost.” (my favourite poem in the book by the way), and Webb in Traitorspotting: “if/you outrun/the wolf,/but your/heart/overcomes/you.” This is not to say the poems are derivative but that Chafe is at the stage where he is donning and casting off styles, perhaps deliberately in order to more deeply enter his touchstone images/symbols (deer, wolf, light, ghosts, forests, knives). He certainly begins potently with a jarring shift from a news story to a Choose your Own Adventure structure (“to blur the lines, turn to Page 3”), continues engagingly with a dark focus, and, I only wish, concluded with a bit more of a pow. But that just shows you how snagged I was as a reader by the hauntingly rhythmical environment of nightmares Chafe creates.

 

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