For the first Snapshots of the New Year, we bring you music! The following three books are distinctly musical, but they also all make sure to remind us of how important silence is to both music and poetry.
The Music of Leaving
Tricia McCallum is a two time winner of the Goodreads Poetry Contest. Her writing is simple, observant, and strongly narrative. The Music of Leaving, as described by Demeter Press, is about the "distinct soulful music that we often hear, however faintly, in the background of our lives." The book reaches its peak near the end, when McCallum begins to strip back the narrative in order to reveal the profound music of everyday observations: "My memory has been good to you since you left. / It's taken you and buffed your sharp edges, / polished up your one-liners, / edited your conversations for wit / and sensitivity. /[...] Even your eyes aren't that blue." The Music of Leaving is a fairly quick read, but its influence is sudden and just might just catch you off guard.
Chamber Music: The Poetry of Jan Zwicky
Wilfred Laurier University Press
Chamber Music: The Poetry of Jan Zwicky is the first ever anthology of Zwicky's poems. The collection begins with a beautiful introduction by Darren Bifford and Warren Heiti before it plunges into the lovely, philosophical, and deeply musical poetry within. Zwicky, as a violinist as well as poet and philosopher, has always been acutely musical. In Chamber Music we see not only her experimentation with (musically) poetic forms, but we also witness her written contemplations on pieces such as Mozart or Glenn Gould's performance of Bach's "Italian" Concerto. However, despite the rich collection of poems within the book, Zwicky's focus is clearly on the beauty and music of silence: "One sees with the greatest clarity, / sees nothing." Beyond being a great window into musical poetry, Chamber Music is also a wonderful introduction for anyone who has not yet encountered Zwicky's work. But beware, her writing is addicting and her "language could bend light."
Albrecht Dürer and Me
David Zieroth's Albrecht Dürer and Me is less obliquely about poetry than the other two featured books, however music is still always lingering in the subtext. Sometimes, much like Zwicky's work, Zieroth will focus on his response to a specific piece, such as in the poem "on first hearing Mahler's Fifth" which he describes as "mellow and unmelodic / depths that vanish into ears of listeners where nests of / feelings up till then half note (half unwanted) / fill with formless murmurs from a forgotten life of fury." Zieroth's poems ramble on somewhat ceaselessly and much like music. Ideas, words, and days slide into one another as Zieroth records, through poetry, his travels through central Europe. One of the most poignant pieces in the collection is the one entitled "Travelling Without Earplugs," a sort of poetic recreation of John Cage's 4'33''. I encourage you to read it for yourself, without earplugs, in a strange location, and listen to what you hear, such as the "birds / new to [you] singing in Italian."
This week's Snapshots blog features poetry collections from three talented Canadian authors. Each book experiments with the expansive but also restrained possibilities of poetry by playing with form, content, and language.
For Your Safety Please Hold On
For Your Safety Please Hold On is a debut poetry collection written by Kayla Czaga. The book is broken into five sections: the first two, "Mother & Father" and "The Family" introduce the reader to Czaga's complex, intimate, and somewhat surreal family life while the following sections, "For Play," "For your Safety Please Hold On," and "Many Metaphorical Birds" carefully unravel the simple linguistic constructions which were only just established. Czaga's poetry collection deconstructs the vivid image of her mother and father by poetically acknowledging the difficulties of linguistic representation: "My father is more like a poem than most poems / are." For Your Safety Please Hold On pulls its readers in and then spirals out of control, encouraging them to hold onto each other in order to stay in one piece. For Your Safety Please Hold On is infinitely quotable, for more, please check out this Toronto Quarterly interview with Czaga.
Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects
Wolsak and Wynn
Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects initially began as a playful experiment with the glosa form but transformed into an intriguing deconstruction of formal restraints. In her interview with the Toronto Quarterly, author Catherine Graham explains how every time the glosa form started to limit her she let it go. While the original idea for the collection was formed using the straightjacket restraint, the final poems blossomed out of a resistant and creative freedom. The final product is subtly violent and beautifully poetic. As Graham writes, "I'm passive like a cut / that never heals, only closes / over coldly, a wound of ice and snow."
The Things I Heard about you
Things I Heard about you is best described as self-erasure poetry. Alex Leslie's debut poetry collection is almost the exact opposite of Graham's Her Red Hair Rises. Instead of breaking free from a formal restraint, Leslie uses erasure to tighten 13 poems to the point of near extinction. The unpublished manuscript of this poetry collection was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry and for good reason. The beauty of Leslie's poetic process is difficult to explain, so we'll just show you an example: "The things I heard about you – driving past I looked at bathtubs of glass light, garden intestines, spaceman. Leave him. Stringing and string up glass and you know the difference. Design in salt worn against the rising." But even this poem is not small enough: "Smaller" Leslie writes beneath it and so it becomes. The final revision of the poem is nothing but one word: "Thumbprint."
This week we talk about three books with cool, calm winter covers and captivating, crisp poetics. (And no alliteration!)
Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something
Paul Vermeersch's fifth book of poetry, Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, as ECW Press so finely puts it, "imagine[s] a post-apocalyptic literature built, or rebuilt, from the rubble of the texts that came before." Vermeersch's writing is a fascinating example of what 21st century poetry could be, should be, or already is. The poetry collection brings disparate ideas, texts, moments, and forms together and, in doing so, functions as a kind of poetic representation of social media and internet use. But Don't Let It is also deeply embedded in the offline world, in the rubble of the everyday, and Vermeersch never shies away from the humour in the darkness: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, / I have travelled a little, / What's the difference."
The Stag Head Spoke
Wolsak and Wynn
The Stag Head Spoke is really tightly written and really complex to read. Within the pages, poet Erina Harris creates a whole new world of myth and folklore, playing between the labels with which we reviewers try to pin these texts. The Stag Head Spoke is both fantastical and metaphorical and yet it reflects something so familiar: "The woman walking toward outskirts of listening / In a direction of her / Departure at her back is a shrieking thing heard / Her, lessening / In her, remembering / Her is it to imagine / The woman in the alley sounding her barter walks with an other chorus / Of her steps in sounds her shrinking / In her Image," It is worth navigating through the labyrinths of Harris' poetry to find the meaning for yourself.
Goose Lane Editions
Stevie Howell's poetry collection ^^^^^ [Sharps] is upfront and unsentimental. The book takes its title from an Egyptian hieroglyph which is used interchangeably to represent “waters,” the letter N, and all prepositions within a sentence. Howell's poetry is all of the above: fluid and rhythmically dynamic like water, sharp like the points of the letter N, and as abrupt and biting as prepositions. As Howell explains in her interview with The Toronto Quarterly, ^^^^^ [Sharps] embraces the poignancy of the word "no." She resists fantasizing the ordinary, but she also denies the mundanity of the everyday. She says no to violence, but embraces it in her imagery: "You crush by moving, mulch / the recently fallen autumn leaves, snap branches, / snag open the tear in your jeans. / Your panting. / His panting. / It's a kind of transfusion."