Jul 4, 2017
These are poems that breathe. Hold your breath because they are poems that hold grief, rage, and loss, and maybe even you.
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.”