amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ottawater's 10th anniversary issue

This issue is packed full of poets, with 34 contributors, not to mention the artists. Patti Normand's photos of motels & trailers are outstanding. Scott Fairchild's Creepy Go Lucky is delightfully creepy. comes out every January, is curated by rob mclennan & designed by Tanya Sprowl-Martelock. 

I'm not going to write about all the poetry here. go read for yourself. here are a few mentions of poems / poem series that really stood out for me & why.

Sylvia Adams' series "addiction and recovery," appealed to me from the opening lines: if//below, in the valley, is anything new?/if she, how she, why". I like the disorienting beginning, this play with syntax to render the disorientation. there are some playful oxymorons here: "sugar sniping mainly salted me" & "holy mother of brotherly love." invented ideas such as, "travel-caked":  you know what it means, but you've never seen it before. another poem, "additional martyrdom" is an unusual list poem. Adams has an artistic way of looking at things. She blends sound & sight in entertaining ways:

the wild goat frenzy when morning is an illusion
the soft war of bedsheets when you haven’t yet learned to sleep
the night alley legs your stockings escape
the dead dog putrescence you jam your head against

"For those who live in unrequited times" is a series with urgency to it. it starts off with clipped sentences, which get longer as the poem progresses, making it breathless.

I always enjoy the brilliant sound play & lyricism of George Elliott Clarke. In this series, " Witness of Madame Thérèse de Couagne"

But why must he
spelunk her dusty guts,
her predatory trap,
what grips and grinds a white man
down to nil?

the history of Black Canadians of Nova Scotia & New Brunswick are the main sources of inspiration for Clarke's work. I love his word play, the lusciousness of his imagery. it feels like he's given voice to what was once unspeakable, showing us the horror, the outrageousness of the way human beings were treated.

"À Marie-Josèphe Angélique" is a powerful portrait of a rebel.

A livid, smoky biography,
plus the perfume
of a smouldering “Confession”:
All we know.

In "Jean-Jacques Dessalines Vs. Jean-Jacques Rousseau" there are many memorable lines, such as

But their blood is only blood—
yes, but not worth as much as Merlot, Malbec, or Shiraz—
the infinite intoxication of definite reds….

These poems speak of the horror of slavery, written through an unflinching eye.  I wonder sometimes how it is that so many poems about important issues can be so bland. Clarke refutes that idea with his work, both poetically strong & effective. His diction can turn on a dime. I envy his abilities.

I'm a fan of the poetry of local writer, JM Francheteau. I heard him read the poem that is published in this issue, "Hiding Under Kindling" at a Factory Reading Series event.  his style here reminds me of Marcus McCann: strong sounds & diction, starting in the middle of the action, unusual similes,  words like "godblast." love the understated ending here too. some poets have a talent for balancing the drama of the poem & allowing space for quiet. this is what Francheteau does with this poem & with his work in general. we'll be seeing more from this fellow. count on it.

I have  never read any of Richard Froude's work before. That's the beauty of a magazine like Ottawater, it introduces you to poets you haven't heard of before. There's a simplicity to "They Do Not Come Back." It has the rhythm of what? A dirge? A hymn? Something holy. I like the way it moves from ordinary things to the death of someone close to the speaker. Makes me think of Emily Dickinson's poem, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes"  : First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go.

I really enjoyed Karen Massey's 12 Erasure Poems Carved from Email Sent by the Ottawa Public Library. Each small poem is titled & tiny. I love how simple these poems are & yet how astonishing:

Blue Tuesday

Rilke requests,
please visit poet’s market.
Pick up
bold plans,
a broken thing,
roses calmed by sunshine,
book favorites,
randy stories and Bach.
A clam.
Hold art, your angels agaze:
starry, embraced.

16 April 13

Justin Million often takes me by surprise with his poems. There's something understated, even banal about the subjects of the poems & yet he manages to astonish with beauty or insight or a small phrase that is exactly right.

Colin Morton has one small, minimal poem "Ceremony." it packs a powerful punch. He manages to combine some strong sound work with unusual lines & syntax play.

Roland Prevost offers two serial poems, both very minimal. I've always been impressed with how Roland creates striking images in such little space. The first poem in Time's Gag draws a connection between the dissolution of salt & mortality. Roland uses unusual language in his poetry, often combining scientific terms with zany colloquialisms.

I've been fascinated by Armand Garnet Ruffo's poems about Norval Morrisseau and his paintings since he first published one with Bywords in August, 2012, followed by a reading at the A B Series last year. & I've been fascinated by Morrisseau himself since I first saw a retrospective on his work at the National Gallery of Canada in 2006. Ruffo is writing a book of poetry on Morrisseau and also a biography. The poems & associated notes in Ottawater are from these manuscripts. These poems are mesmerizing, powerful & full of the tension of the artist's life & work.

Back in August, 2012 I was introduced to the poetry of Matthew Walsh through Bywords. After that he had a chapbook, Cloud People, published with Toronto's Odourless Press, in 2013. I am a fan of Matthew's poetry. This series, A Joni Mitchell in Pieces, is unusual, thoughtful & poignant.

These are just brief glimpses into some of the poetry that I enjoyed in's 10th issue. Happy ten years, Ottawater. 

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