Not bad so far, eh?

I wonder if I’m the only reader of Canadian poetry who has found this spring’s offerings thusfar above par. I’ve digested 3/4 the M&S list, half the Anansi, and all but one Coach House title, plus a scattering of volumes from other presses, and I’m thinking it’s a pretty good year at this point.

Some reading notes (A note on the notes: They’re notes. Please note this if they are full of half-formed thoughts and poorly presented. Also, it’s 6am as I write this. Keep that in mind, too. Haters.)

Ossuaries/Dionne Brand: Man, that first poem is incredible. It’s rare for a major stylistic tic to take that long to make itself apparent, and still to feel that natural. I’m not going to say what it is, as I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but hot damn, that first piece kills for nine whole pages, and does so without feeling like some Oulipo contrivance. It feels like the natural way the poem should be written. I’m not sure how I feel about the vocal modulations in the rest of the poem; the introduction of an “other” speaker that’s presented as a sentient character separate from Brand’s own voice, but is quite clearly Brand in disguise, feels occasionally distancing. Countless beautiful multi-sentence phrases in there though. It seems to march and waltz at the same time, something about Brand’s ability to speed and slow language, mapped out over the repeated tercets, is likely responsible. Curious to sit down a little longer and figure out how it works. Either way, if you’re of the mind that Inventory is her best collection (as I am), you’ll surely love it.

Bloom/Michael Lista: Works when it shouldn’t. Is generous and humble when it should come across as standoffish and entitled. Everyone likes this thing… but doesn’t a book like this need enemies? Isn’t that the point? Where the fuck are its enemies? Perhaps I’m not being patient enough…

Neighbour Procedures/Rachel Zolf: I need the physical artifact in-hand…I’ve got these electronic proofs and it’s hard to get into this kind of architectural stuff without a better sense of the frame. Liking it though. It’s hard to say anything new about the Israel/Palestine deathroll, but she manages to.

O Resplandor/Erin Moure: So hard. So. So. So hard. Usually, as I’ve done since I was an infant, I just throw away things that are this hard. Moure’s incredible at *just* ducking around the corner at the last second, though. And she seems willing to gently teach you how to read her, without being dogmatic about it…it’s subtextual. She brings you back. I still only get maybe 60% of it, but I’m comfortable with that number. 60% is a passing grade after all.

The Reinvention of the Human Hand/Paul Vermeersch: Having seen all these poems in vitro, the final product is more about the realization of the object than the introduction of the text. Quite definitely career-best work, though. Lots of awesome poems about famous animals (Koko the Gorilla, Laika the Dog, Porky the Pig…) He really effected the audience at this past week’s Open Stage Night @ Harbourfront. Lots of crying, grateful, listeners.

Rhapsodomancy/kevin mcpherson eckhoff: I picked this one for a Torontoist interview because I wanted to journey as far out of my comfort range as possible. He does visual poetry, very avant garde, all that stuff. He also bought and read my book mid-interview, and turned a lot of my questions back on me. It’ll be out this month some time (the interview), I think it’s a really good one. And a really good book, too. Though what do I know about this stuff?

Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey (Alessandro Porco-ed). Some good essays, but it’s really all about the interview at the end, wherein McGimpsey languidly shuts down all of our national poetry myths, one at a time.

A Good Time Had by All/Meaghan Strimas: Also for an upcoming Torontoist interview. Strimas has likely found her ideal editor in Karen Solie. The work in this book is tougher and chewier than in her first. Likely my favourite book cover of the year.

Acquired, but not yet read: The new John Steffler (it lost a first-poem off to the new D. Brand after I bought both). Some bright and shiny books Palimpsest Press sent me that I haven’t read yet. More, but they are alarming to name all at once. The kind of thing that’d make me call in sick for work.

Out, but not acquired: The new Heighton and Buffam, from Anansi. I’ve heard good things about both but will wait for the launch. The new Bowling or Skibsrud, from Gaspereau; hard to find those sometimes, and really I can only allow myself to buy Gaspereau books from the tiny bookstore in Wolfville, Nova Scotia that gives them their own wall and stocks five or more years of backlist.

Not out yet, but eagerly anticipated: Apparently Dani Couture’s follow-up, Sweet, isn’t coming until late May. Jeff Latosik’s first (Insomniac) comes in May, too, as does fellow Vox Pop amigo Anna Swanson’s (Tightrope). Jim Johnstone’s new one should be good too, even though the cover art sorta looks like the original poster for the Woodstock Festival [Exhibit A.] [Exhibit B.]. And, though slightly off topic, I’m waiting for the official Canadian release date of the new Don Paterson to get it. I know I could have Amazoned that thing, but certain books demand the walk down Queen Street to Type, and that’s one of them.

So, what am I missing? Where else should I direct my meagre paycheque in this annual orgy of poetry book-buying that is the Spring season?

Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Poems in the Wider World, Reviewing, Toronto Poetry Cult

14 Comments on “Not bad so far, eh?”

  1. Chris Banks Says:

    This is quite an impressive menu you have created here Jake. I’ll take the Dionne Brand to start and I too want the new Bowling. Paul’s book is incredibly polished and stylish. I have read the new Heighton “Patient Frame” and it is excellent. His book has the best title of the season for my money. In terms of the Americans, you could do worse than go out and pick up Edward Hirsch’s new selected The Living Fire and Kay Ryan’s new selected The Best of It, both out in hardcover. Dream titles? A Tim Bowling selected in hardcover. A book of essays by A.F. Moritz published by Gaspereau. A man can dream.

  2. James Langer Says:

    I’m most looking forward to reading Paterson’s Rain. And in May (I think), there’s a new Simon Armitage collection called Seeing Stars. Ben Lerner’s Mean Free Path is out from Copper Canyon and Derek Walcott’s White Egrets from Faber/FSG.

    As for Lista’s Bloom, patience would be appreciated. I read your entry, Jake, and can’t help but think there’s a fine line between the expectation of controversy and the manufacture of controversy. After the last century or so of experimentation, I think that, as an audience, we’re more than prepared to accept this book’s premise and judge the poems on their merit.

    I’m really looking forward to Bloom (because I’ve managed to track down a few of the poems here and there, and they’ve been good), but I’m definitely not looking forward to listening to the rather tired discussion of post-modern authorship that I’m sure will follow. A good book of poetry does not need enemies. And I’m hoping people will follow Wittgenstein’s lead here and go for “complete clarity,” which means we need to dissolve problems that don’t exist (not try to solve them). I don’t see this book’s leaping off point as a problem, so let’s just get beyond the surface level and talk about the poems, because I’m really hoping that people won’t forget to talk about the poems first. That’s what I’m looking forward to anyway.

  3. voxpopulism Says:

    James re: Bloom.

    I am hoping for the same thing, as I feel the book deserves it, but am perhaps less optimistic that we are far enough advanced along the stepladder of poetic discussion (at least, not to pick on Canada, in *this* country) to avoid it.

    What I’d really like to see is a tired, last-gasp attempt at a discussion of authorship that’s met with a chorus of “so-what” by the rest of the reading public, and immediately dropped as a useless and dated issue. That would be the best result. I think Bloom could reveal some paper houses, in that instance.

    And no, good books don’t need enemies. But many of them, historically, have had them. My above possibility posits a location in the history of poetry in this country where such enemies should be expected (and, to those eager to move past them, encouraged). Yours suggests one farther along that invisible continuum where they wouldn’t be needed. I still think we’re a little closer to my timeline than yours, but would love to be surprised…

    And yes, my reading list is extremely Canadian. But that Paterson book is Target #1, no doubt about it. I didn’t know there was a new Armitage.

    Chris: Ed Hirsch, you say???

  4. James Langer Says:

    Jake: I thought you said YOU were going to be the optimist this month.

    Well, maybe I am just being optimistic, but the conversations and debates that pop up on blogs and in reviews are often the preoccupations of a prolific minority (is that the “we” you’re speaking of?). I think the quieter majority is probably on a higher rung of discussion than these public expressions of opinion often suggest.

    Sometimes our master debaters just go looking for a good punch-up (and they sometimes even manage to incite the crowd). But there’s a difference between a scrap and a bench-clearing brawl. If this little fist a cuffs occurs, I’ll keep it in perspective through a chorus of yawns.

    Oh, and your Don McKay April Fools was great. Yes, I clicked the link (out of sheer confusion).

  5. voxpopulism Says:

    Re: Optimism

    No, that’s a different website for the optimism. On this one I’m just normal me.

    And I agree with everything else you said above. Including that my April Fools thing was great. It’s a real movie, though. Coming to an art house near you…

  6. Chris Banks Says:

    Yes, the Ed Hirsch is excellent. A beautiful looking book and a nice introduction if you do not know his work. I’m not crazy about Don Paterson but I’ll definately pick up the Simon Armitage. Thanks for the tip James. I’m not sure why that was off my radar. I’ve also been a big fan of Derek Walcott ever since finding on old copy of The Gulf in a second-hand store here in Waterloo about six years ago.

  7. Gary barwin Says:

    I’m looking forward to the new McFadden collected long poems out from Insomniac in May. He does amazing things with the longer poem, beautiful, wild, and inventive.

  8. LH Says:

    Joe Denham’s Windstorm.

    I haven’t seen any Brick Books yet this year.

    Skibsrud and Buffam I recommend.

  9. LH Says:

    From Persea, Aaron Belz.

    From Coach House, Jen Currin’s new book is very strong.

  10. voxpopulism Says:

    The Currin is around here somewhere…I’m psyching myself up for it.

    Forgot about that new McFadden. I liked the first selected, though I preferred seeing the original stuff, that book of sonnets from last year. I’m not really familiar with his long form stuff (or anything of his really, that wasn’t in Why are you so Sad?) though everyone says it’s quality.

    I’m getting like 1 recommendation a week to read that Denham book. Seems about time to follow the instructions…

    Have you read Ossuaries, Sina? Would like to know what you thought about it, if so.

  11. LH Says:

    Haven’t read the new Brand yet…I have a mountain here, the Anansi and Coach House line-ups, Persea, leon works, my co-bloggers from Harriet, nightwood, there’s a book from Michael Eden Reynolds…like the aaron belz from Persea.

  12. voxpopulism Says:

    Hmm…everyone has a mountain.

    Say, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have 90% of new poetry books coming out in the same nine-week period? Is the fact that they do somehow National Poetry Month’s fault, or is the feast and famine pattern older than all that?

  13. Liz Says:

    Jake — I started reading the new Steffler yesterday. I’m only about twenty pages in, but so far, I feel like I’m reading a new The Grey Islands, but with the speaker positioning the language — and himself within the language — completely differently. Good stuff. I can’t wait to go back for more.


  14. voxpopulism Says:

    I started reading it on the same day, and am now roughly the same number of pages in. It’s like we’re in the same book club, or something…

    I didn’t like that first poem all that much, but I have a bias against poetry that reimagines evolution as individual choice. I absolutely loved that longer, roomier, prose piece about bunking with the park rangers, though.

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