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Books, September 2004

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Issue: 22 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

September 30, 2004

Books, September 2004

rev_joy.jpgJoy, Joy, Why Do I Sing?
by Darlene Madott
Women's Press: Toronto, 2004.

"Is there anything," the narrator asks midway through the title story, "more serious than joy, the dangerous freedom of singing it out?" Madott's stories insist on joy because they are stories about pain, concerning characters in recovery from lost lovers, broken marriages, and smashed dignity. The pain implicit in joy finds its way into the details that Madott chooses: the smooth fenders of a sand sculpture Volkswagen, or the cool wet teabags in the fridge waiting for the next headache. The earnestness with which she approaches her subject matter, however, occasionally betrays her. It broke my heart to see her ruin a powerful passage with heavy-handed repetition, a problem which spoils the final sentences of the book's opening segment, "Extract of a piano lesson concerning Chopin's C sharp minor etude." When Madott keeps her writing controlled and sparing, she hits a ringing note and follows her imaginary piano teacher's instruction: "Well, make it leap." --Linda Besner

rev_posspast.jpg The Possible Past
by Aislinn Hunter
Polestar: Vancouver, 2004.

In this elegant themed collection, Hunter visits the sites of memory -- museums, archives, galleries -- and inserts herself into their gaps, expertly drawing our attention away from Christ to the thief on Christ's right. She presents history's marginalized everyday voices in a witty poem called, "Marginalia Found in Books at the Vancouver Public Library." She writes, "In a cookbook, recipes corrected,/ an even hand that writes in blue pen,/ They're wrong about the eggs". More haunting is the piece, "Factory Conditions c. 1815: A Female Millhand Responds to Parliamentary Commissioners." Hunter fills in the girl's answers with abstract imagery, lending the nameless worker an authoritative poetic voice. There are a few unfortunate moments when the author's focus moves too far away from the object. I was strangely disappointed by the piece, "Leper Colony, D'Arcy Island," in that it focused on the somewhat trendily esoteric question of language's relationship to objects -- to the exclusion of the more tactile possibilities of this unpublicized chapter of Canadian history. The drawback to the book's subject matter is that it's easy to rely on the way "history," and "the past" lend instant weight to a line. It's a pitfall that Hunter manages for the most part to escape, but the inevitable repetition of these words in the collection tends to deaden their impact. --Linda Besner

rev_robbie.jpg The Robbie Burns Revival and Other Stories
by Cecilia Kennedy
Broken Jaw Press: Fredericton, 2004.

Kennedy's unadorned prose introduces the character Tony Aardehuis, a small-town Ontario policeman whose work takes him inside the scandals and sorrows of his community. It's a slow building book, with each story adding a measured drop to the reader's knowledge of Tony and his charges: a philandering priest, a farmer who won't stay off his expropriated land, a mayoral candidate running under an assumed name. The pace may cause some readers to lose interest, since each story's payoff comes only in the final paragraphs when we are sanctioned a peep into the surprising and delicate sensitivity that drives Tony's actions. Kennedy has chosen a somewhat shuttered approach, giving her protagonist-narrator the tone of a good solid country boy, unwilling to gossip about other people's affairs. It has the effect of keeping the reader at a polite distance; we learn about the characters from the outside without being allowed to intrude upon their privacy. --Linda Besner

rev_weave.jpg Weave
by Lisa Pasold
Frontenac House: Calgary, 2004.

This verse novel follows a woman's life from her childhood in Prague and Vienna through the war years, during which her house is destroyed and her family dispersed. She quickly ends up in Canada, searching out her past in the person of her lost brother. In this set of poems, Pasold's speaker lets everything tumble out immediately: her grandmother's fruit dumplings, the candy shop she visited as a child, the constant movement of her later life. There are times when this quickness moves the story forward in quick smarting pinches, as in the poem "Iron Cross," in which she writes, "The metal of the medal would not bend. I came downstairs/ because of the noise, he was/ beating something in the fire with a poker. saying nothing./ in what was left/ of my grandmother's house." With the hook of history to hang her story on, Pasold's war period poems are perhaps the most graceful. On either side of the war, however, this sense of purpose is lost. "Whatever colour the lines/ on the map, Prague is there in the middle/ where the heart should be," Pasold says. But where is the heart of this book? In her speaker's unpunctuated hurry to get her story out, the full development of character or place is compromised, and the series becomes a set of promising sketches without quite achieving the rounded fullness of a finished work. --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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