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Books, August 2004

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Issue: 21 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

August 25, 2004

Books, August 2004

Written On Water

r_written.jpgWritten On Water
by Michel Marc Bouchard
Talonbooks, 2004

You have to love a play in which Scene Two begins, "CLAIRE: (as she throws a dead cat in the air)". In this 2003 script--freshly translated from the original French--a flood has washed away the most beloved features of a Quebec village, from the dead cat, Max, to the church. The characters' concern, however, is not for their houses or institutions, but instead for the lost manuscripts contained in the old school gymnasium, which, under the forceful will of the aging schoolmaster, Samuel, has been the meeting place for the senior citizens' writing group. Samuel has set his peers/pupils the task of finding all the works they have created over the years, now beached in drowned piles on the gym floor, and recreating the lost sections. The elderly characters lead the audience through a dramatic meditation on age, memory, and the status of the past as fixed or mutable. While some of the themes dealt with may be overly familiar, like the demographic shift of young people from the villages to the cities, there is a touch of magic realism that reaches behind the cliches of getting older to highlight the subliminal way in which communities transmit knowledge, accruing a history that gains as well as loses from death. --Linda Besner

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r_hijack.jpgThe House That Highjack Built
by Adeena Karasick
Talonbooks, 2004

This is an experimental work devoted to linking words through sound, to the near exclusion of semantics. Karasick "highjacks" our linguistic structure and drives it away as the gleaming vehicle for phrases like, "subpoena peonie poesis,/ a performative promise/ a promiscuous/ fescue, a fillet au fracas/frothing/ in the vertigo of a minoritoria flora,/ a flapping applet frappe". One section makes effective use of Hindi words like tikka and bhaji, and glimmers with succesful punning, as when the speaker refers to "my sari ass".
Other wordplay directed humourously is less succesful: the author mixes highly esoteric words with the demotic in a way that unintentionally sets up the more casual phrases to disappoint the reader. It's hard to pass from "frilly frolic freilach freitag" to "Yo dude!" Unfortunately, this extended joyride can indeed feel "frothy" at times; the surface may be boiling too hard to allow a clear look at what's underneath. --Linda Besner

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r_parking.jpgMeet Me in the Parking Lot
by Alexandra Leggat
Insomnia, 2004

Leggat's car stories are not about the moral emptiness of suburban car culture. Instead, they celebrate the centrality of cars to rural small town life, accepting the car as a personality, a partner, the significant other of our ambulatory lives. Leggat's bluntnosed prose acknowledges her setting as the "shooting, stabbing, child-porn ring" kind of countryside, the kind where your neighbours know you intimately and not at all, where your car is as familiar as your face. There is a pokerfaced humour at play in these stories, from the blankly titled "The Car", in which a woman matter-of-factly sets up housekeeping in her rotting car in the driveway of her house, to the final story "The Parking Lot", in which small-fry drug dealers argue by cellphone from adjacent parking spots over whether to meet in Leo's Monte Carlo as usual, or to upgrade to Leo's new Cadillac. Leggat's sentences, like her cars, are squat, utilitarian inhabitants of our psychic space, whose contours are both squarely resistant to and natural containers for our attachments and anxieties. --Linda Besner

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r_yearone.jpgThe Year One
by David Helwig
Gaspereau, 2004

Just when it starts to feel too placid, the wind tilts, the clouds shift shape, and before you know it the periods are gone and the music on the speaker's record player is everything again. Helwig's collection of long poems traces the progress of a year through the vital signs of the weather, beginning in the long variable whiteness of January. Helwig's musings are full of digressions that fuse with his natural observations as if people and events were of the same order as milkweed: common, but worth commenting on. He is attentive to the readable traces that movement leaves on the landscape, but carries always before him the idea that, "We act and vanish with our acts./ Snow, rain, wind or the growth of new grass/ will conceal us equally." None of the tricks of the trade are employed here to give the verse hooks, but there is a firm momentum that pushes the reader forward, if only to reassure herself that conclusions to this type of reflection are unnecessary. --Linda Besner

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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