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2020 Poetry Delights

By pearl@pagehalffull.com
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Compelling reads from Canadian poets
Niagara & Government
Excerpt

I am sick of keeping upa quaint pretense of language optimismor some sloppy nod to the experimentalas if I had a new plan besides this urge this compulsion // to not be silent & to pattern

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Why it's on the list ...
These poems don't get swept up in themselves, but heckle easy assumptions, resist hero or villain, the lyric impulse for perfect beauty or paper-cut endings. He wants to be more real than that and escape the literary within the literary. "I dare not smear with wit or cheapen with harmony" (p. 79).

He reflects on past decades, and interpretations, and impacts within the moment's "deep accordion sigh" (p. 55) and realizing "this is Bottom I thought but I was wrong. /I was wearing the hole in Bottom// the bottle still had it over me/I was its tongue" (p. 51). His expression is fresh and deft. It is an ear candy to read, and fittingly absurd to stick candy in the ear. He is irreverent. "happy to muck about allow & accumulate".

He explores being an outsider to who he was born among, and coming to acceptance that he is unchangeable in nature as the people he is unlike. The material is heavy but there's a resilience within grief, a self-awareness that it passes and returns.
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Orrery

Orrery

Poems
edition:Paperback

Orrery is a collection that orbits around the theme of Pioneer 10, an American space probe launched in 1972 to study Jupiter’s moons. Having achieved many firsts before reaching Jupiter and a few more after being hurled away from the solar system, the probe was retired in 2003 when NASA stopped sending signals to it, leaving it to wander alone through deep space.

On a trajectory that may long outlast Earth, Pioneer has transformed from a finite object into an infinite one, a muddling of the mun …

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Haiku in Canada

Haiku in Canada

History, Poetry, Memoir
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Why it's on the list ...
Rarely has seminal been such an apt word for a book. This is a feast of encyclopedic knowledge of the timelines, events, people and poems that have made up the haiku community in Canada. It gathers years of reading in an invaluable guide to orient on the history of the movement as a subset of Literary Who's Who. Over 180 pages have a fantastic number of biographies and sample poems from individuals, events and geographical groups. There are 35 pages of endnotes to geek out over.

Background stories fill in the gaps among the scattered practicing communities. It compresses it all accessibly and shows how haiku is a much denser form and more flexible in form than it was even 20 years ago.

"belonging/where I don't belong/giant sequoia" Roland Packer (p. 110).

It is a good companion book to Moonflowers: Pioneering Women Haiku Poets in Canada by Terry Ann Carter (Catkin Press, 2020) which gives a bibliography and biography of 14 poets.
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Low Centre of Gravity
Why it's on the list ...
I love these frank, lively poems. They take you right into the moment of life in each reread, whether impish playfulness in bed or attending another concussive funeral as "we lumber though/what we don't have the skills to handle" (p. 25).

He has a sense of real and a sense of self-deprecating humour such as "Slam Dunk" "you are halfway through/what you are convinced is a great poem/when you realize you have just repeated the plot/of a recent favourite movie" (p. 47).

In some hands, memoir poems feel like lineated prose but these have pauses and line breaks and turns that make it poetry.

He has a way of gliding from subject to subject in an unexpected way yet everything fits, from Kirk Douglas to Odin and a neighbour's dog named Odin to how how "Gods are never the deities/we think they are" (p. 73)

They move me and make me laugh no matter how many times I read them.
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Long Division
Why it's on the list ...
Many of the poems appeared in chapbooks and in magazines, or at readings I attended and I find it handy to have them bound together.

The poems challenge language and expectation. They are not a quick composition, and not a quick read.

They play with expectation whether self-deprecating as in— "You,/& the sacramental/Thou. Grief, weeping,/& the desert cans & cants. Un-/sayables." (p. 90)— or the rotting of language boundaries: "Be a tific. Be bop. Be but ever even. Be calm. Because the beams so estrange you. Because you find yourself turning. Because colliding is foreign to you." (p. 124).

The questions the text asks are large and within an awareness of constant change and chaos. "How very yesterday of me! Always thinking, etc. All this not to see, not to where I must, me in spite of myself." (p. 74).
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rushes from the river disappointment
Why it's on the list ...
The book moves in a drowning rush of water, and gives a heady rush. The language surprises and the word choices are densely brocaded and sumptuous— "each spring a hesitation/the surface/of lindens throb ebonized by rain". It has starkly staked its truths "because pain don't care/what makes sense".

Within the awareness of ache there's a sense of agency fighting back, conscious of mind watching body thrash, listening knowing one must give the body the dignity of going through what it must, "into the toothsome sustenance of thriving" enduring sometimes feeling vaguely absurd about changing planned course and compensate for the "all to avoid a face/at your hair and height". Yes, sometimes we flinch and that's okay. It's a kindness to self, considering. One embraces this and the good, "tongue blueberries/from palms trusted/not to hurt you."

One goes forward, communicates though "whatever sieve can tongue it".

It's inspiring in form and content.
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Bittersweet

Bittersweet

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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Why it's on the list ...
The words tumble in a kind of direct speech of the stage, emphatic and passionate. Although conversational in reveal, the poems are dense with point of view pivots, such as in "Ink" "What she tells me (laugh): Grandma didn’t have a choice.//What she does not tell me: Our grandmother, tender and young, must have been branded like an animal."

Although focused on Scarborough, the poems bridge more universal gaps, of what a generation lives. Rather than a silo of register, it embraces the wider communication, mixing in another language that we don't need to know, with the concrete tactile that we can.

Like all the other books on this list, it navigates trauma with strength, living vividly.
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