These are poems that breathe. Hold your breath because they are poems that hold grief, rage, and loss, and maybe even you.
Davis is a Winnipeg intermedia artist working with poetry, audio/composition, and performance. At the 2017 Fringe Festival, you can catch Davis channeling Keanu Reeves’ legendary 1995 MTC performance as he tackles the role of One-Man-Hamlet in INERTIA, a collectively created performance about queer dance parties, beer tents, theatre ghosts.
Jennifer Still has an enormously generous presence in Winnipeg’s poetry community. She was the first person I ever showed my poetry to; “score for breath”, was the note she left in the margins. Comma is a symphony of breath, of space, of erasure but not of destruction: “Erasure as regeneration,” as Still writes in the haunting prose poem / essay that sits, quietly, in the middle of the collection. Erasure poems feature in the collection, using as their source material a hand-written field guide to prairie grasses the poet discovered while her brother—the author—was in a coma. But grief here is not a melodrama played out for voyeurs, although many of the poems are heartbreaking (from the poem “COMA”: “A sundog is a coma, the broken halo of your mouth. / You smile 22° distant above the horizon. [….] A coma is a comma, the starfall of your hair. / I wait for you in the comb sounds.”). Perhaps the greatest achievement of these poems is their poetic rigor in the face of tragedy, their refusal of bathos, their commitment to performing the gaps of grief as a page of scattered words and emptiness, to scoring poems for a “shred / of dangled / breath”.
Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us
Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us, Noah Wareness’s first book of poetry, is a punk nightmare, a sharp intake of the lungs, an often unsettling and always weird meditation on realness. It’s funny: “I like my coffee how I like / my own fucking heart.” It’s cantankerous: “fuck whoever came up / with the name noam chompy for a dog.” And it’s deeply enigmatic. The collection's rough diatribes are interspersed with prose poems reimagining The Velveteen Rabbit as a whisper quiet conversation between children’s toys about what constitutes reality. These poems, really the backbone of the collection, are philosophy at midnight, woozy, full of stillness: “Polaris, like a ribbon of old onionskin, twisted away across the Rabbit’s lidless eye. [….] The Rifle stood in the moonlit parlour, her shadow tipping across the floor like a black yardstick.” In Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us, Wareness eschews lilt, lyric, and love, rejects all conventions of poetic tone, and really just does whatever-the-salty-language he wants. A middle-fingered debut from a poet who scores his poems for the breath of snarling dogs and musings talking rabbits.
To Love the Coming End
Also a debut collection, Leanne Dunic’s To Love the Coming End is the most traditionally narrative of these collections. A writer on the move, slowly, haunted by a disappeared partner as she wanders from Canada to Singapore to Japan, is cursed by the tragic numerology of love: “This November features a series of elevens: 11-11-2011. Slender ones paired with their likeness. Posed together and apart, forever parallel. Is one still the loneliest number, or is it eleven? [….] November: our birth month. Late autumn, we are. When dark comes early.” First/1st-person reflections on relationships bleed into a traveler's private moments listening to rock music: “King Crimson’s Red album. The title reminds me of maple leaves, Mao Tse-Tung, the rising sun. You. [….] The fan quivers above me. From my window, illuminated haze obscures the night sky.” A thin line separates the seismic tectonic shift caused by loss from the threat of destruction in the metropolis: “Singapore grows, a city of glass, as if there is no threat of plates and quakes.” To Love the Coming End breathes slowly, privately, in the sort of personal moments that are perhaps only possible in a foreign land. Every square inch of blank paper that frames these fragmentary entries conjures the cavern of the unconscious, a world of flickering thoughts, captured shards of memory, epiphany glimmerings. Read on a rainy day, and, if you dare, “Inhale. A damp breath.”
June’s snapshots are brought to you by three incredible women writers who have a lot to say about sex, life around us, and life inside us.
Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Winnipeg poet and playwright who will be pursuing graduate studies this fall. Her work has appeared in CV2 and The Malahat Review.
If there were a genre devoted to “Erotic Cultural Criticism,” #IndianLovePoems would take the cake, or the “bannock and butter.” Tenille K. Campbell has written a collection the melds sex and tradition, the erotic and the ritual. The speaker, a Dene woman with a laugh that can be “heard across bingo halls,” is unabashedly promiscuous, sampling men from all walks of life: the “hockey players,” the “John Smith(s),” the “Saulteaux warrior(s),” the “marrying kind,” and the “two-headed sea-snake” men who “belong to the water.” At times, the speaker approaches sex as a means of regaining cultural agency, an erogenous decolonization of sorts. In one poem, she rides a white man and refers to him as “conquered goods,” flipping the colonial narrative on its head, so to speak. The collection is ripe with thick tongues and lips and thighs, sensual body parts that take up space in the best possible way. But there is also love here, love that is rooted somewhere deeper than the short-form text messages and “winky faces” of romance in 2017. It is “sweet and flirty and hot as fuck / indigenous love.”
What the Soul Doesn't Want
Lorna Crozier has gifted us with a sixteenth collection of poetry, a striking addition to an already remarkable repertoire. What the Soul Doesn’t Want outlines not necessarily a narrative, but a feeling, a perspective through which to view the natural world. In this collection, an eggplant is a “Martian heart,” a fly is “closer to heaven / than we are,” and a cockroach is a loving mother of thirty-three. Crozier coaxes out of us the thoughts we know to be true, but had never consciously considered, like the notion that the soul doesn’t want “wine wrung from turnips” but might in fact tolerate “a rat mother,” or a “leather collar / that reeks of goat.” These poems relax into themselves and each other, allowing for an easy journey through the language of Crozier’s poetic mind. She doesn’t shy away from the words that unsettle, the ones that make us squirm, like “crap,” and “cunt,” and yes, even “fart,” as the cockroaches so often do. Above all else, these poems are chalk full of vibrant, animate life.
This collection is tactile, in every sense of the word. In Charm, Christine McNair toys with concepts of creationism: of books, of violins, of thicker skins, and of infants. She teaches us about “the futility of metal objects” and to “believe in stitches” because they’re “quaint.” Alliteration and assonance are the technical superstars of this work; the poems are pleasing to all of the senses, but to the tongue especially. For instance: “fingers tighten in lulls ears / say: mine mine minion / miniature minaret tower.” The themes McNair seems to be working with are those of hand-work, of violence where there should be none (“warlove”), and of being a woman – in the rawest of ways – in a world that is not necessarily built for us. This collection gives readers a healthy handful of delicious new words to add to their own lexicons: “platysma,” “pollinia,” “pleurisy,” and “patina,” to name a few. Charm is carefully crafted, stitched together just-so in a way that is not necessarily simple, but oh so satisfying and utterly engaging.
Pilfer! This month’s Snapshots features poetry collections that are sly and sneaky and steal your wallet. These poets are societal dumpster-divers, and they light up culture’s junkyard like it’s the Fourth of a pretty ironic July. Lock up your secrets and seal your lips. The poets are coming.
Davis Plett makes word-things, sound-things, and sometimes video-things. Catch him doing all three during the 2017 Fringe Festival in Inertia.
Kathy Mac’s Human Misunderstanding is a pastiche of found text, paradox, and quiet rage. The collection is split into three sections. One pairs dreamy word-visions of a modern poet-philosopher wandering a lovelorn city with quotes from David Hume’s “Enquiries Concerning Human Misunderstanding.” Mac has a knack for the poetic juxtaposition of previously unrelated materials, and hum[e]an misunderstanding is everywhere where one turns. Another section of the book examines a series of Canadian court cases involving assault charges and potential deportation of persons to countries where they might face torture and death. Language itself gets hurt in these poems; legalistic lingo gets chewed up and spit out by the tragedies it fails to completely account for. Perhaps the most surprising section of Human Misunderstanding compares Omar Khadr to Harry Potter. The results are a harrowing indictment of media portrayals of Khadr as either a tortured hero or a demonic villain: “Harry Potter’s self-sacrifice shields his friends and allies. He tells Voldemort: ‘They’re protected from you. […] You can’t touch them.’ / Nothing—no legal precedents, no UN Conventions, no International Treaties—protected Omar Khadr.” Human Misunderstanding doesn’t offer easy answers; it dismantles them.
“The Word Liberation Front prepares / language for safe, sincere appreciation” chimes the speaker of “Do Not Revere Popular Music,” and nothing could be further from the ambitions of Jamie Sharpe’s Dazzle Ships. The collection is an escapade through language where “Words took the long / weekend off” so “We might as well go bowling.” Poems about hockey players cross-check poems about computers which carom into poems about the poet’s previous collections. Poems about writing are left, right, and always way off center: “You think it’s a small poem / fixated on life’s everyday minutia— / trivial, but instantly recognizable / bits of the day. // Then a confusing metaphor is made / using the mutant, Kuato.” Silliness abounds as Sharpe somersaults through language and nabs nuggets from arts award ceremonies, email scammers, and even himself.
Undoubtedly the most structurally rigorous collection of this month’s Snapshots, Same Diff takes poetry to the art gallery and then there’s an explosion. The collection compiles stock phrases used to justify racist sentiments (“I only meant it as a joke / Political correctness has taken so much fun out of the world / If you move to a new country, you should absorb its customs and values”) in monotone monologues that become as nauseating as they are exhaustive. It instructs the reader in enormous, all-caps propaganda posters to “LOOK / AWAY”. It welcomes the reader to the collection with a list of greetings in a number of languages whose speakers are under threat. The poem concludes with “welcome” in English and Latin. If Same Diff takes some fun out of the world, it’s because that fun was never there to begin with; the signs and symbols of egalitarianism always circle back to the dialects of imperialism. Perhaps the most extraordinary poem of the collection is “Bottom of the Pot,” a nineteen-page elegy simply comprised of quotes from prisoners-of-war, Holocaust and gulag survivors, and soup-kitchen users. Each quote returns to the same basic observation—that soup from the bottom of the pot is most desirable because it has the most nutrients and substance. Mancini’s lists, with their insistent repetition and procedural tenacity are monumental, glacially shifting edifices that deface empire’s pristine walls with their own babble. Mancini [re]says the same things over and over, collects linguistic violence and travesties under the heading “same diff,” contending that there is no essential difference between them; that taken together they are the testimony to patterns of physical and ideological violence. Same diff? Mancini doesn’t think so. Neutrality is not an option.