Snapshots return! After a brief break, we are thrilled to return to the blog and we hope you are too. This week's Snapshots are brought to you by Davis Plett.
Davis Plett is a Winnipeg-based poet, musician, and theatre artist. Catch him attempting to do all three at once in his upcoming Winnipeg Fringe play, Infidelity.
George Murray's seventh collection of poetry,
Diversion, takes the pithiness of Glimpse, his previous book of aphorisms, and runs it through a bombastic malcontent's technologically mediated stream of conscience. Whereas Glimpse explored philosophy and lyricism over a series of 409 eloquent aphorisms, Diversion's poems are compilations of seemingly disconnected tweet-length lines, titled by punning hashtags, including #CivilDosconvenience, #TheBookOfExoduh, and #ThePathOfLeastExistence. Some choice lines, from the irreverent speaker: "Leaf through the Divine Sitcomedy," " I've created a petition to ask myself to please start pigging out in front of the poor," and " Inflammatory critics are probably just gluten insensitive." Often hilarious and never dull, Diversion evokes an experience of disenchantment, ennui, and sarcasm rooted in a culture of endless distraction and disjointedness, grumbled by an embittered speaker who probably wishes this sentence would just f***ing end alre—
questions i asked my mother
In "foreword," the introductory poem to Di Brandt's 1987 collection,
questions I asked my mother, the speaker begins, "learning to speak in public to write love poems / for all the world to read meant betraying once & / for all the good Mennonite daughter i tried so / unsuccessfully to become acknowledging in myself / the rebel traitor thief the one who asked too / many questions." The subsequent poems make good (or, perhaps, make ambiguous) on this paradigm. Beginning with poems tackling parents, childhood theological rebellion, and early sexual experiences, the speaker then moves into poems of adulthood: irreverent eroticism, inconvenient middle age, deaths of loved ones. In spite of their frequently rebellious tone with regards to the author's Mennonite upbringing, these poems always remain willing to entertain a dialogue, whether it be with religious sentiment, with geriatric conservatism, and, perhaps most poignantly, with the speaker's mother: "mother why didn't you tell me this / how everything in the middle of life / becomes its opposite." The collection's final poem, "looking back looking forward," finds the speaker eyeing the future, a future that includes the conflicted and yet "transformed / heart of out troubled mixed up culture(s) coming / to fruit." Recommended for those with complicated cultural legacies and a taste for poetry rich with story.
The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out
House of Anansi
If Diversions is pure glee and questions i asked my mother is an eloquent confession, then
The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out, Karen Solie's fourth collection, is an articulate enigma. Unafraid of density, philosophy, Canadian art galleries, vehicular transportation, implacable landscapes, and the radical materiality of modern life, these poems embark on a sustained exploration of alienation, confusion, and the noun-saturated thinginess of the contemporary experience. In "The World," the jaded speaker gazes at a paradoxical emptiness: "Familiarity / without intimacy is the cost of privacy, security / of a thread count so extravagant its extent can no longer / be detected. Even at capacity, The World is eerily empty." In the world of these poems, agency is limited: "Action resembles waiting for a decision made / on our behalf, then despair after the fact.” Objects have a greater potency than those who apprehend them: "The objects do not defer / but express themselves as constancy / inside which a seeming shrines, surprising / our judgement with affect. We who arrive / from nowhere in our monotony / of psychic instability, our fragility / and immaterial intuition, contrast sharply / with their variety and richness." Helplessness can only be mediated, uselessly, by decorous language: "It was the same life, more or less, / yet suddenly a flight itinerary represented / the most tangible indication of my fate." And yet however impotent language might be to grapple with or change the forces of these estranged objects, figures, or landscapes, language spins them into beautiful phrases. These poems will transport you, but the end destination is fraught with uncertainty. The road into these poems is marked by difficulty; what of the road out? That’s for you to discover.
This month's snapshots are all about Nightwood Editions.
Joe Denham’s Regeneration Machine is a “100-stanza, 9,000-word letter-in-verse”; the speaker of this collection is addressing an old friend (Nevin) who robbed a bank and then put a bullet into his own head. Wow is right. Through the letter we learn about Nevin as the speaker manically speculates what caused Nevin to put the gun to his head. We read “I huddled to the warmth whirring from the fan / and thought of your heart as it ran and ran and / for what? So it could break like a crash test car crumpling against the brick-wall of your brain, / its self-effacement, its pain? So you sent a bullet straight into your skull. And that was that, wasn’t it, / sorry friend? Sorry world, sorry witness, sorry wind.” Through reading the letter to Niven we are also introduced intimately to the speaker; we read “Some of my first memories are / of my father and uncle and grandfather belted, tooled, raising / walls and a roof somewhere in the heat of my fifth or sixth summer. / Standing back on a pile of sawdust studying what it seemed to mean / to be a man” and “how many moons will pull the water low below the littoral / mud before I relinquish my love for beer and whiskey.” You really must read Regeneration Machine. Discover how Denham takes from the shambles and makes them shine.
Transmitter and Receiver
Transmitter and Receiver is Raoul Fernandes’ debut collection and what a debut it is. In this collection we stumble upon the contrast between the amusing world Fernandes creates and the world in which we actually live by. Fernandes takes us to a place where a vending machine dispenses tulips: “You put a coin in a slot / a blade curves out, lops / a flower near the base / of its stem / and sometimes / if the stems are too close / or blade slightly off / it accidentally cuts two” and then he quickly tugs us back into reality with poems where “you wake up bed-headed and somewhere / in that tangle of hair is the signature / of the one beside you” and “Later outside a 7-Eleven a man says, Watch out / for the bombs tonight but I don’t get it.” Transmitter and Receiver is a strong debut collection; read it yourself and enter the world of poems Fernandes has created.
Nick Thran’s Mayor Snowis a collection of poems which at times speak through the voice of Al Purdy and at times become a sort of charming obsession with surveillance, we read “If a tree falls / across the middle of a downtown street, everyone hears it” and “Cameras are out as soon as the weather warms. / Helmed by two careful cartographers / in company-issued threads”. It appears that “All of these poems work in shadow, be they forebears, tabloids, cultural markers or government watchdogs”; these poems may work in shadow but it is important to also notice the light they cast: “ Middle of the night, deep in the / city’s engine; what unaccountable atrocities are taking place? / What meat cleavers lie in the tulip patches? What knives / are propped blade-down in the compost bins.” Are you wondering what other light-shining questions Thran asks in this collection? You’d better pick up a copy; or better yet—request our copy and write a full review.
This week's snapshots each explore home in some way—stretching from the dirt roads of small rural communities to the streets of Montreal.
Joanne Epp’s debut collection Eigenheim revisits the memories of childhood with all sorts of questions: “And what—I want to ask, / mending sweaters with the stitch / she taught me—does love look like / on winter afternoons when the washing’s not done and there’s all the family / to feed?” The speaker in these poems investigates youth with the knowledge of adulthood. It is through this investigation that Epp revisits and sophisticates memory: “Of course I was silly. / Of course I blame you. / Don’t you know what you did? / I was so sure I loved you.” The speaker in these poems is fascinated with unanswered pockets of memory. We read “She asked him, What are you looking at? / so that he could answer, the back of your throat / where all the words are waiting / till it’s safe to come out” and “Chances get missed, questions linger: / why did you swallow those pills? / what did you really want?” In Eigenheim, Epp “Examines death and birth, loss and love, deep searching and unquenchable longing” all the while asking all the right questions.
Karen Enns’s new collection Ordinary Hours takes us through Enns’s “rural Mennonite childhood.” This collection contains all the charm of a small town but most interestingly it contains the underlying ache of it. We read: “Maybe she knew what she was doing / following him to the bunker / like she did” and “The men are old and almost naked in the ward. / They lie with their arms and legs splayed out / as if to say, look at us. Look at our bodies. / Like clothes hanging out to dry.” These poems voice a community; there are many histories tumbled throughout these poems. The speaker frames her own identity around these stories and around the small town, we see how the home place can define us: “At midnight we walked with the music / still burning our fingers. / We knew it that way. On the skin. / Snow fell in the winter months. / Sometimes the cold left a seal on our foreheads / reminding us: the world still lives, / still eats, still takes the garbage out / and sleeps with its face to the wall.” This is a collection filled with vowel sounds, though the meaning of Enns’s words is anything but soft and muted: “Reading an Enns poem feels effortless: her rhythms and phrasing are so minutely calibrated that the poem unfolds as if of its own accord.”
Shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch award, melissa bull’s collection rue is a stunning debut. Like Enns and Epp, bull focuses on a home place in this collection—however instead of exploring Mennonite roots, bull “explores the familial, romantic, and sexual ties that bind lives to cities.” In this collection, bull flaunts a darling sense of humour; she adds gritty and irresistible charm to the monotony of daily life: “I dump out the grinds from the percolator, they make a / thunk. The damp little circle could be pretty, if it wasn’t for the smell of organic cow rotting in the hanging plastic bag.” This collection is armed with an overflow of cutting images that are difficult to forget: “I’d seen another like her the day before, dead on the sidewalk / with a plastic bag barely covering her face, her hair the colour / of nicotine stains, bushy and animated in the wind. A police / officer stood watching traffic. / Pedestrians milled around her like ants around a sandwich.” After reading this collection you will likely find that bull’s poems will revisit you: you might see them on the street corner or mottled in the kitchen sink, perhaps in the burn mark on the sofa which you have just noticed for the first time.