3 short reviews: Mac, Hansen, Brock

Reading a book of essays and reviews by Mary Dalton recently, I came across this paragraph: “A healthy literary culture is inhabited by reviewers who are greedy for poetry.” Yes indeed. Though at times I feel I’ve been too greedy in requesting books for review and get a tad overwhelmed amid all else, especially when I don’t truly think I am the “right reader” for the title under question and yet, I promised to review it, and I am mostly loyal to such duties, so I must.


With that proviso, I currently have 8 titles I am reading and aiming to review pre summer as that’s when I take a social media break! So, these reviews will invariably be shorter than usual. And especially for these 3 because, like I admitted above, I don’t think I can do them total justice, not because they are lacking per se but because the subject matter of each: child soldiers, trickster soldiers, and alien soldiers (of sorts) is not really my thing. Keep that in mind. It may be yours. I hope it is! (years ago I found I couldn’t review a text by Natalie Zina Walschots as it was about video games or something. and I let myself down with this total resistance. so I’m resisting my resistence today! and of course, the more I write about the books, the more my mind opens).

Kathy Mac: Human Misunderstanding (Roseway Publishing, 2017). This text is a politically crucial experiment in engaging in the act of compare/contrast through which one can more readily feel empathy for the victimized. In three long prose-inflected poems, Mac explores the juxtapositions between Harry Potter and Omar Khadr, 18th c Hume illuminations of the mis-apprehensions between one person and another (my favourite sequence as it’s the most tangible and sensory (“This is one consistently observable effect I have had on you: you sleep well beside me. (But. In your experience, my type hurts [and hurts and hurts]),” and 12th c comments on two cases of torture and deportation in Canadian courts, a piece that attains an Alice In Wonderland-style tone as it seeks to discombobulate predictable response. Go to this book if you seek to think more deeply about the relationships between self and other in our world, a realm in which the complex metaphor one can weave between eras, histories, literatures and politics is nearly slack. Mac is a rare Canadian poet who is unabashed at bringing the depth of her morally probing and well-researched stances to her art.

A Tincture of Sunlight by Vivian Hansen (Frontenac House Poetry, 2017) thoroughly explores the persona of the Old Man, a being who appears, hauntingly, in pretty much every piece, whether narrative or lyric, toying with shifting line breaks, or being elaborated in solid chunks of prose as letters or historical excerpts. The relentless repetition of Old Man makes it a challenge at times not to be lulled beyond an attention to the important matter of the tale this trickster/ soldier/ biologist lives, one narrated by Lover, who textually caresses all key details. A fascinating journey of words and temporalities here, though I still preferred the tinier poems in which the focus is taut and moving as in Sequence: “Soughing,/the first snowflakes/whispering the plot to each other: this is how you reach the ground./Cover me, I’m going down./The crystallized torque,/spinning flakes,/snow, resting./Showing themselves approved/ to black winter air, prepared/for the white anxiety/of ice.” O yes the music in that last image!

David James Brock is definitely a strange one (which I’m cool with ;). His Ten Headed Alien (Buckrider Books, 2017) proved to be an acid extravaganza from a boy’s jizz of a Bradberian daydream where monsters are women with heads of fish, or flatbeds of pigs, or little punks or The Super Duper. Lines are tentacled and cut with robotic voices, repetitions, glossalia. Brock, being a musician, is stupendous with stanzas and breath and twisting melodic echoes between “enzyme” and “scream” and “puce” and “ecru.” Taut and punchy with near nil emotion as befits a tract about the end of humanity by a man in an Oryx and Crake-style spacesuit, his pew-pew forms serve to wham bam the reader in the ears even if their minds don’t fully “get it.” My faves are: “Woman with the Head of a Fish in Parkdale,” “I Only Eat What I Kill: Volume 2,” “Please help I’m at the edge of the world this morning,” “Newfoundland II,” and the whole sequence in which detritus is recorded for emptiness’s posterity, called “The Ruins.” Definitely not a common perambulation through the apocalpyse.

Ok, I ended up getting into these books more than planned. Good. Because me learning is the most selfish motivation I have for composing these reviews 🙂









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