Hands sunk into the mud, pulling out fossils containing memories of joy and trauma, January’s Snapshots bring you a diverse range of voices that are all deeply personal. This month's Snapshots are written by Jase Falk.
Jase Falk is a queer, non-binary writer and student who lives on Treaty 1 territory.
Tumour is Evelyn Lau’s seventh collection of poetry. The first section, “Ancient History,” digs into the past with a familiarity that comes from working over memories again and again so that the major feelings are no longer found in moments of intensity, but are revealed in the everyday. A dissatisfaction with the present cannot be remedied by nostalgia, for the past is complicated and going back dredges up a mix of hurt and anger. Instead, the speaker goes to dinner parties, indulges in reminiscence and laughs at “the sort of people who discuss the price / of real estate at poetry readings.” The second half, “Tumour,” written for Lau’s dying aunt, is a confrontation with mortality that feels raw and honest. Amidst moments of reflection, the reader is reminded of time’s perceived forward motion: “I pressed it to my ear and heard the roar / of my future life rushing towards me.” Many of the poems which are titled after various body parts (“Face,” “Skin,” “Brain,” “Vagina”) portray a fragmented subject alienated from its body through the accumulation of memories it is both holding onto and ready to let go of. Caught somewhere between self-reflection and a negotiation of the expectations and objectifications set by the self and by the world, Lau’s poetry holds a reverence for moments of exquisite beauty while showing the necessity and inevitability of change as the future rushes forward.
The Size of a Bird
Beginning with the poem “Write a Place for the Pain,” The Size of a Bird calls its reader to “find the words which are not words which are sounds.” Clementine Morrigan envisions language as a physical reaction to trauma—to find words to circle around and make attempts to explain the inexpressible. Longer prose poems sit in contrast with short, airy poems that resonate with tenderness: “My mouth / cups the vowel / It is sweet / between my lips.” Heartbroken and tender while also at times rough and unabashedly calling out the sexism of various lovers, Morrigan’s poetry deals with desire and the messiness of young relationships amidst the reality of sexual violence. This exploration of queer femininity moves through the transient spaces of cheap hotel rooms, skate parks, late nights at the bar, and beach days to bring affirmations of the possibility of a lasting love even in the face of disheartenment. Where Lau’s angst is present but veiled behind dinner scenes and the distance of old memory, the emotions in Morrigan’s poetry are fiery and close to the surface. This book contains an urgency which defies sentimentality and demands feminine desire be taken seriously and without compromise.
University of Calgary Press
Fail Safe is by far the most experimental of these three collections. Reading it is like tinkering with a cypher that reveals ever more cryptic answers. Combining text and diagrams to create a landscape undulating between the absurd and profundity, Fail Safe asks a parallel question to The Size of a Bird: instead of what it is to write, the reader is asked what it is to read. Language is explored through multiple senses; through its texture, taste, sound, and often through its failures and the humour that follows. The question of what it is to read returns again and again: “Reading is messy. It likes / the brink, walks the gangplank.” Poems engage with different systems for procuring or collecting meaning—surveys, thesauruses, semantography—which are then balanced on the edge of unreadability. The reader is given the sense that Nikki Sheppy is playing a game with this book. The rules of the game are unknown as meaning continuously slips through the cracks, denying clarity and instead forming absurd jokes: “what would a whale review / of Moby Dick en-tail?” This organization of signifiers extends into an investigation of social media as a new architecture for facilitating the exchange of meaning. The uncertainty of which passages hold weight in the text creates an “archive of distraction” where the reader is unsure of what language to privilege, and thus must dig around the strange piles of surreal images in an anarchistic levelling of linguistic value.
The August edition of Snapshots is written by Ariel Beynon and celebrates diversity, deviations in structure and mode of telling.
Ariel Beynon is a poet whose work has appeared in multiple past issues of Juice Journal, and in the upcoming anthology Persian Sugar in English Tea (Volume III)—a collection of love poetry translated from English into Persian. Hailing from the scruffy, lovable North End of Winnipeg, Ariel draws upon nature and everyday life as primary sources of inspiration for his writing.
Book of Annotations
Cameron Anstee’s debut collection of poetry Book of Annotations takes the reader on a journey of discovery with work that switches between the “sensuous, natural, familiar, unexpected [and elusive].” Each piece is one thread in a diverse tapestry of the different aspects of life, moments of need—“I believe you when you say / I don’t know what I’ll do if—,” and moments of interaction—when “the cat sniffs the length of my arm.” There is fearlessness to explore the common while simultaneously considering the sublime. The way the poetry is structured also metamorphosizes throughout the collection. There is an excitement that comes from not knowing what the next page will look like—how the stanzas, how the lines, how each word will be spaced. The true enjoyment, however, comes from appreciation of how the diversity of the structure ties into the diversity of the subject matter; the structure reflects the theme in each different narrative that Anstee takes the reader on—a trip well worth taking.
Wolsak and Wynn
David James Brock’s poetry collection Ten-Headed Alien straddles poetry and science fiction in a way that integrates both of these literary conventions seamlessly. There is a sustained narrative that runs throughout—the arrival of a monster and the simultaneous breakdown of human society—tropes common to those familiar with the genre of science fiction. The medium of poetry, however, allows for the narrative to be told in a new and exciting way—each one a short glimpse into a different viewpoint from someone in this new world order, whether it be a woman with the head of a fish in Parkland or one of the heads from the ten-headed alien. Vivid imagery and remnants—:“The Once Popular Sci-Fi Music Genre (Recording Found),” “Artefact Carved in the Bark of Garry the Glass Tree (Undiscovered),” and “Skeletal Remains at the Bottom of Former Fishtail Lake (Discovered)”—provide backdrops and flesh out the world even more, allowing for further immersion. This new vehicle for telling doesn’t hamper the mode or the flow; instead, it allows for a greater concentration of varied ideas and ruminations on “human failure, vulnerability and hubris.” For those looking for something off the beaten track, David James Brock’s collection is the perfect springboard for exploration, whether it be a light reading or a more in-depth examination.
What If Zen Gardens...
In his collection What If Zen Gardens…, Henry Beissel invites the reader to take in a spectra of images ranging from more traditional subjects of reflection, to sections of thought, to a linear exploration of the four seasons. Accompanying the poetry is a collection of illustrations by Arlette Francière, which further enhances the reflective nature of Beissel’s words. Writing in an ancient poetic structure that creates restraints when it comes to visual structure and length, Beissel is able to create in exactly seventeen syllables—no more, no less—images that stick with you; read through it too quickly and you miss out on this. The firm structure and brevity doesn’t create a sense of disconnectivity; each poem is one piece in a puzzle. In a world where time has become something of an obsession, the reader is given the chance to slow down and enjoy each haiku individually or as a part of a greater whole, to revel in the beauty of words, in “violets—blue chips / scattered from heaven. Summer’s heralds on the ground,” to be drawn in by the first line and want more when the third and final line comes around.
This is poetry for a more honest, emotionally and politically astute future.
Davis is a Winnipeg intermedia artist working with poetry, audio/composition, and performance.
I Have to Live
Penguin Random House
In an era where lyricism and conceptualism over-determine what counts as “good” poetics, there is something startling about an epigraph which reads: “What would I write if I were going to live?” The body is alarmingly present in Aisha Sasha John’s work, threatening the existence of the poem itself: “Why should I know what I’m talking about / When I could merely feel it?” And yet there is pleasure in the game—not of “knowing”, exactly—but of dancing around reality. In “I like it when we give the world to itself,” the speaker chimes, “Folding it to it / Like a soft-shelled taco. Hi, God. // I said in the photo’s caption. / It’s Aisha. // I volunteer.” And yet no intervention will do—Jim Jarmusch’s nostalgically orientalist Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t make the cut: “It was as fake as most movies. […] Tangiers / Is not like that.” The issue is not so much that some specially privileged “I” has to live, but that we have to live together: “My heaven meets me in the day. / My heaven meets me in / Your company.”I Have to Live offers a profoundly relational and radically readable poetic.
Coach House Books
In addition to her poetic and academic pursuits, Queyras is the founder of Lemon Hound, Canada’s preeminent source for poetics online, where emerging and established voices are put into a curated conversation.My Ariel is a highly personal variation on this sort of project. Writing over, under, and beside the life and work of Sylvia Plath, her critics, and her biographers, My Ariel establishes the rules of the game in its opening poem, named after Plath’s “Morning Song,” as the speaker wakes and groggily checks their phone: “What is missing in me? Refresh. Refresh. / I can’t stop looking for love here.” Love, absence of sanctioned desires (filial, romantic, poetic), and an excavation of intensely private spaces—Queyras’ and Plath’s—carry the collection. “Daddy” is haunted by fathers: “I feel all the daddies, Sylvia. They brawl inside me like drunken Colossi, elbowing my aorta, kicking my uterus. […] I wish I could laugh when the hands that caught me at birth and later slit me in two like an apricot fly up at me in the middle of sex.” Mothers retreat only to return as wounds the speaker does not know how to live without: “How can I escape the force / Of her narrative, how she pulls everyone / And everything into her design? Then, / How will I survive without her voice? What silence / Will invade the dark centre of my mind?” Children arrive to the speaker and her partner, but fear and failure tug at the corners of this new love: “I dreamed I was crossing the Verazano on foot / and an earthquake came. I was caught, holding on to the railing, / both babies in my arms. // One fell. // We understand the solitude of the journey when we sign up, we don’t understand the solitude of the journey.” Towards the end of the collection the speaker asserts: “I needle through the / Black eyes of my past, / Which must also be my // Future (you can’t / Create what you can’t / Imagine).” This is poetry of and for pain but also, unrepentantly, of and for love.
Assi, the land of the Innu, rises in Fontaine’s Assi Manifesto and speaks: “Precious water. Flowing water. Fierce water. / I dance on the river. Working the rudder of the medicine wheel. My thirst is a manifesto. / then there is Alberta, Fort McMurray, Athabasca. / Where I stumble.” There is an urgency to these poems, a violent ecological and spiritual longing: “I’ll write you a manifesto / a love manifesto a paper manifesto // I hear you beating my destiny / the north and south dying / […] Hurry up and join me / the tundras are sagging.” Time expands to embrace the speaker: “I am three women in one / I am daughter / mother grandmother / […] I am moon land sea / my memory / […] a territorial tremor / a rumbling of ancestors / the heart the emptied wombs.” Joy becomes revolution: “Pleasure is resistance / resistance is pleasure / in your hand / red blood / red framework.” The speaker cries for an apocalyptic rebirth of the land: “The caribou / the buffalo the horses / the deer will come / with the land / drown the pipelines // We will burn / the residential schools / the paper acts // We will embody / a huge fire.”