amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

above/ground press 2017 – final favs – Ottawa

N.W. Lea, Nervous System (November)

The cover is a visual poem of a flower with a brain at its centre and a spine for the stem It’s the work of poet, visual poet, musician and former Ottawan, Jesse Ferguson and it’s striking and fits with the poems in this collection, particularly the title poem.

These poems are minimal and quiet, apologetic and humble, but they pack a punch. There’s a playfulness in poems like March List and An Ecstasy and beneath the playfulness or at times brushing off of feeling is depth of feeling. The imagery in Nervous System is vivid and active. For example, in The Wound: “The wound is a rune. Sobbing goblins tend its fire.” Or in Nervous System “this sketchy head/fused to the landscape/betraying whole civilizations.” And “rain-slick alders in fall,/ the blooded dusk of an amalgam town. Night’s freak//beater of stars.” In Pyscholyric. Why am I thinking of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip now? Cue Wheat Kings.

To a certain extent, these poems represent a Millennial experience: malaise about world events, self-doubt, loss, an emptiness, observation as if from a distance. “Then you recall/and have to re-feel/the serrated embrace/of young panic.” (Pyscholyric).

Whenever I get the chance to read N.W. Lea’s poetry, I always feel a certain relief. I’m no Millennial, having been born at the dregs of the baby boom, but I relate to these poems and they reassure me that I’m not alone.

Jason Christie, random_lines = random.choice (January)


Speaking of minimal, here’s Mr. Christie with 9 poems that from appearance make me think of Twitter and of code. I’ve always admired the profound nature of Jason’s poetry. In these poems he blends the everyday with philosophy and receptive file formats and a pinch of absurdity. There’s a tenderness to his poetry that always catches me off guard. I expect a kind of cool objectivity and then I get “tin”y song islands/replete with music: you gotta watch your own back.” In # morning fragments, for example, or a portrait of a grey day and then “Emmett playing the piano,/hidden stars in our time/lapse” in #anvil and a swing timer. These are contemplative poems by a parent and a poet: “the child/inside considers itself whole -/family he recognizes into/bells and song bells -/his music to be a joy to.” In “ day – what does a child. Despite the guilt and shame and despair we all feel, there is music: “Through amber Snow/we sing we sing to create.” In # hitch And every A hitch. I loved this line in # ballad highway “Unbegun is the most/all three of us can manage/at this time of day.” In many of these poems the light is juxtaposed with grey, with metal with bleakness with gravel and it works. “you let it burn through.” In # encumbrance at dawn. “hope shedding months of /drudge and resist” in “from that great game of bridges. Something I repeat often in February is that life is mostly pain, suffering and tedium punctuated by moments of joy. Jason’s poetry always gives me moments of joy.

natalie hanna, dark ecologies (October)

These square prose poems offer long sentences that wind over dark sleep men in suits, along ants that crawl on a woman’s calves into a winter forest. There’s a sensuality to Natalie’s work that I have always admired, a keen eye for detail and a compassion. This compassion that launches itself into full blown anger in poems like syrian aperture and blue, bad mothers. The speaker of these poems and the poet herself is a ferocious bad-ass and the poems show that, while at the same time, quieting down just long enough to smolder. I can smell the smoke when I open the pages.

rob mclennan, It’s still winter (August)

This chapbook contains 18 lyric prose poems that engage with the sentence. “I awake myself to sentences: common, and unmoved” in “My daughter is in New York City.”  I like the rhythms of these poems: “The poem is the distance between early morning rustlings: the toddler, cat.”  There are juxtapositions I hadn’t thought of before, “Skin like a cobra, a keyboard.” in the title poem and “When might depression feel like fire?” in Brockwell Madrigal. I enjoy the playfulness: “I’m feverish. I’m lovin’ it.” in the title poem. Many of the poems mention the work of the poem, of writing, contemplating the nature of sentences and prose and silence and grammar, scattered notes. The sentences in these poems are often short and staccato.There are lots of questions and fittingly, no answers. I enjoy the thinking behind these poems and the way the sentences are put together.

Marilyn Irwin, north (March)

The cover of the chapbook is a woman with a ribbon in her hair, possibly a fascinator, in the dark water up to her chest. She is gazing up at the dark sky, the moon and a sprinkling of stars. The words “Les Ondines” and “Madeleine Morel” are attributed to the image, but I could find no info via Google search. I was intrigued. As I’m rereading the chapbook, I am listening to Timbre Timbre, attributed as the soundtrack to Marilyn’s writing, editing and life. These are beautiful, soft acoustic songs, swampy ragged blues, says Wiki. No Bold Villain, one of Timbre Timbre’s songs is the epigraph for north: “One of us is not normal/And it might not be you.” So I am fully prepared for the dark quiet lady of the swamp offering up her blues.

These are small poems. This is Marilyn’s speciality. I have been a fan of all of her poetry for several years. 23 poems begin with (&) and then we have an epilogue. They are precise and sharp, often wry. The opening poem (&)/he said he wouldn’t speak/to me ever again/if I killed myself” gives you an idea of what to expect. I wonder if the woman on the cover is about to drown herself while gazing up at the moon and the stars. Another poem describes the room inside a hospital, another an unhappy spider plant: “it turns away from the sun/it is trying.” There’s a feisty fuck-you-ness to these poems amidst the despair. I believe that the woman on the cover climbs out of the water onto the other side. To paraphrase the final poem, she chooses north.

Faizal Deen, Open Island (March)

Three poems in this small ocean blue chapbook offer startling lines and imagery, perfume and a modern soul. There’s an energy to this work, to all of Faizal’s work and a push against conventional tropes of literature. I think of Shakespeare’s the Tempest when I read these poems and the speaker as Caliban. I love the beauty of the open island with its ghosts and jasmine, the films, the hippogriff. These poems give off the feeling of the misfit, not just any faggot. I love the energy and the magic of these and all of Faizal’s poems.

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