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January Books

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Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

January 9, 2008

January Books

New works by Dixon, Barlow, Moure, and Murray

by Matthew J. Trafford, Sheryda Warrener, Claire Tacon, Ben Hart

The Girls Who Saw Everything
Sean Dixon
Coach House Books: Toronto, 2007

The premise is appealing: the members of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club will act out The Epic of Gilgamesh. Not everyone who takes part is aware they’ve been given a role. And there’s a robot involved.
What happens when the Luna Cabal attempt to re-enact this epic poem is set alongside Runner Coghill’s story (parents and twin sister dead, surviving little brother) in the detailed account of two members of the Cabal. Because of this meta-fictional approach, the characters seem real and unreal, mature and immature. A quest, a parody, a mildly funny commentary on CanLit, as well as an earnest work of fiction, the book hovers between story and literary feat. Though Dixom draws clever parallels, from mentions of In the Skin of a Lion, which begins with an epitaph from Gilgamesh, to Fall on Your Knees, which examines the bond between sisters, this story’s construction may be too ambitious. The dualities add up to this human notion: “If you happen to walk past a room full of people in mourning, you should probably join them because they’re probably lonely.”

--Sheryda Warrener

Abode of Love: Growing Up in a Messianic Cult
Kate Barlow
Gooselane Press; Fredericton, 2006.

The opening chapters of Kate Barlow’s memoir read deceptively like C.S. Lewis. There are rich descriptions of aged aunts and childhood hijinx—climbing roofs and pilfering through drawers. You half expect the bored protagonist, on holiday from boarding school, to stumble across an old wardrobe. There certainly is a closet in the household, but instead of Narnia, Barlow discovers the remnants of her grandfather’s failed utopia, a messianic cult. Barlow’s childhood home was also know as “Agapemone,” an abode of love where aristocrats could await the resurrection, having relinquished their possessions to the group coffers. Scandals emerged when Barlow’s grandfather, who claimed to be a Messiah, took a “spiritual wife,” in addition to his legal spouse. Barlow skillfully juxtaposes slices of family life with the broader history of the cult. The information, however, is laid out in snatches that the reader slowly pieces together, as did Barlow herself. It’s a clever device, but it sometimes slows the pace unnecessarily. The level of analysis is faithful to Barlow’s age at the time, but this means a more adult critical examination is occasionally lacking.

--Claire Tacon

O Cadoiro
by Erín Moure
House of Anansi Press (Toronto, 2007)

O Cadoiro is a book of love poetry. Hard love. The unrequited kind. Moure writes, "I want to speak no ill of love / becomes I am rightly afraid of it." Further, she writes, "(my heart missing you / its own beast loses heart)." The poems in O Cadoiro are based on medieval Iberian lyric. Often they are presented as translations of Galician and Portuguese songs, but they are very much the "fount" of Moure's invention. In this book, she is consumed by language's failure to articulate emotional experience, by "...the nub of lyric poetry: that one thing can stand for another. Not as metaphor...but that concrete experience can distill to 'mere figure' or 'basal significant'." Moure tries formal structure, lists, concrete poetry. She mixes French, Galician, Portuguese, English. Throughout, she calls on the reader to witness her failure—which, it seems, is the point. She writes, "Where the lyric fails me, the poem." And asks: "Can you follow me in the markings we call / words through such liquidity?" In O Cadoiro, Erín Moure tells reader to suspend their disbelief, for, as she writes, "though poems recuperate, they do not solve."
--Ben Hart

The Rush to Here
George Murray
Nightwood Editions, 2007

This new collection of poems from George Murray contains something truly new; he has written a series of sonnets using an entirely novel kind of rhyme. It sounds unlikely, but the results more than justify the flouting of convention. The rhymes are sometimes based on sound (as in homophones), but more often centered around meaning – synonyms, antonyms, association, etc. To illustrate from a randomly chosen sonnet, “Lullaby”: Murray rhymes ‘utmost’ with ‘paramount,’ ‘receive’ with ‘tuned’ (think radios), ‘signal’ with ‘pulse,’ ‘light’ with ‘dawn,’ ‘time’ with ‘ancestor,’ ‘does’ with ‘execute,’ and ‘rage’ with ‘blaze.’ While some writers might be tempted to let the innovation carry the collection, hoping for an audience enamoured of formal poetry, Murray takes the time to craft each poem into something thought-provoking and beautiful, so that a reader unfamiliar with sonnets might still be enthralled. In terms of subject matter, Murray covers a lot of ground – from reflections on parenthood to the implications of quantum physics, from the sex lives of the Devil and the Greek gods to the annoyance of home renovations. The Rush to Here is worth rushing out for.

--Matthew J. Trafford

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