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February Books

Issue: 42 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

March 29, 2007

February Books

Kingdom, Phylum
Adam Dickinson
Brick Books: London, Ont., 2006

Dickinson’s second collection is an impressive, if heady, look at our classification systems, with poems ranging from “Precambrian” to “The Humours” to infinity itself. “Density,” the opening poem, spans four pages without a single stanza break. Though stunning, it sometimes suffers from over-density, and could benefit from a good edit without losing anything essential. Still, it marks a new direction for Dickinson, one that places him alongside poets like Don McKay and Ken Babstock in scope. In “Kingdom, Phylum, Class” we see Dickinson at his best: playful, funny, genuine. “Maybe commitment is love that has discovered taxidermy, or taxonomy, I could never keep them straight. Maybe it is both—thinking that is stuffed and sorted.” For a poet concerned with how language separates us from the natural world, it must be said that Dickinson sometimes exacerbates the problem, with poems that must first be decoded in the mind, and then, if we’re lucky, the heart. Halfway through the collection, Dickinson’s abstract thinking finds a more embodied expression, and these poems are ultimately more successful. The closing poem, “Great Chain of Being,” is sure to be dog-eared and mailed to friends.
--Bren Simmers

K.I. Press
Gaspereau Press: Kentville N.S., 2006.

Press makes clear from the index of key words, including “obscurity”, “quiddity”, “penises”, and “herrings, red,” that the rigidity of the original Types of Canadian Women, published in 1903, has been left behind. Rather than the Who What Where of the original text, Press uses her cheeky, terse sense of humour to explore the wilderness of the personal lives she's imagined from photographs of nearly fifty typical Canadian women of the period. The poems range from journal entries: “16th May/ I dreamt a wildcat swimming with its baby in its mouth./ I think Maria is stealing the candle-ends./” to an admission in prose by a “Daughter of witches”: “We came to where the men are tied to trees, tied down in animal sinew and smothered in furs, tied on a tether so long sometimes we hang them kitelike in the black skies, waiting.” Though the satirical construct does at times limit the potential for emotional connection to the work, Press’ artful and fearless imagination lifts the poems out of mere cleverness.
--Sheryda Warrener

Home of Sudden Service
Elizabeth Bachinsky
Nightwood Editions, PLACE, 2006.

Elizabeth Bachinsky’s second poetry collection is an unsettling little book about surviving adolescence on the border between the suburban and the rural. It describes “the landscape of my youth: freeways superb in all their trash and glam,” a world where “our fumbling rose, not out of desire, but desperation.” Bachinsky’s simple, often gritty diction is coupled with an unusual yet assured use of form. Her villanelle, “For the Pageant Girls: Miss Teen Motel 6, Et Al,” demonstrates Bachinsky’s retrospective take on adolescent understanding: “Unfair! What did we know / but that our loves seemed dull and strange.” Her prose poem “Near Miss,” on the other hand, promises the escape routes of time and humour. The collection’s first three sections present a series of points of view, though the subject matter—a relentless reality in a harsh environment—remains constant. Bachinsky’s cool tone slips subtly between earnestness and irony, and this coexistence is at the heart of the matter. Through its young characters, Home of Sudden Service explores suspension and suspense, anticipation and futility. This restless, elegant book suggests further accomplishment to come.
--Jane Henderson

Matthew Holmes
Nightwood Editions: Gibsons Landing, BC, 2006.

Hitch, a debut collection from New Brunswick poet Matthew Holmes, stands up confidently to take its place in the ranks of Can-Lit poetry. While not startlingly original, Hitch offers a near-perfect balance of poetic styles and subjects. There are prose poems about famous scientists and their theorems – “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” is brilliant – and poems which range in form from the “ghazal of July storm” to the more formally daring section “Hitch,” an exploration of knots. While in no way strictly ‘regional,’ readers familiar with the Maritimes will recognize familiar place-names like Memramcook. Holmes is not a poet who wallows in the confessional mode, but pieces like “beth seeking poems” let the reader glimpse the interior life of the author while rising to a more elevated level of meaning, something beyond the personal. Some of the best pieces in the collection muse on household objects: fridges that get discarded and eye their nervous replacements from the porch, or the mathematical theory for dust bunnies, “where t is time between/ and the existence of brooms is a given.” Hitch is an adeptly executed knot of poetic skill and engaging thought.
--Matthew J. Trafford

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