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May Books

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Issue: 28 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

May 6, 2005

May Books

Burden.jpgThe Burden of Snow
by Heather Simeney
MacLeod, Turnstone, 2004

Falling snow is light and bright and can accumulate with tremendous weight. With this as its central metaphor, Heather Simeney MacLeod's newest poetry collection queries the elements that constitute a person: past, place, what is longed for. Using a strong first-person voice throughout, MacLeod maps a lifetime of leaving and returning to the Arctic. This three-part collection's strongest moments are in pithy statements that disrupt the often gentle meditations: "God is the first spoonful of heroin," one piece begins. "Even in love / I perch," concludes another. MacLeod's delight in sound is also evident; indeed, I'd welcome more of this wordplay, as in the rolling gait of "Out to Pasture's" refrain: "This then here now one more time." The basic longing for accompaniment appears in the deceptively straightforward "End With Snow", in which MacLeod mixes Hades with Genesis and adds precipitation. God's declaration, "Let there be light" is amended: "of course, light came," but "nothing arrives singular / all creation cleaves to something else / needing something else to say, I am whole / and light came with snow." Ultimately, MacLeod's introspection takes on a certain hospitality, as she, through the medium of her poems, constantly invites, "Ask me anything".
--Jane Henderson

shespeaks.jpg She Speaks
edited by Judith Thompson
Playrights Canada Press, 2005

From Burnet Smith's knife-thrower's partner ("Before each performance I tear a page out of the Bible, burn it, rub the ashes into my hair") to the exploration of First Nation women's rights in Nolan's "Annie Mae's Movement", a play based on the actual murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, this collection of monologues from Canadian plays that are drastically underproduced in their own country contains, among others, works from Dionne Brand, Djanet Sears, Kristen Thomson, Daniel MacIvor, Joan MacLeod, Jackie Torrens, Wendy Lill, George Elliot Clark and Jason Sherman. For both those reading for pleasure and for the actor preparing an audition piece, the interesting editorial choice to exclude any notation of age and ethnicity forces the reader/preparing actor to forget about physical attributes of character and focus on the speaker's perspective and the story she is telling. In the words of Judith Thompson, who edited the collection, it is through the monologue that an audience can hear "the true voice of the character, and more significantly, the dragon that lives underneath the surface life of that character". She Speaks is a fiery roar of Canadian theatre that you never knew existed. Now there's no excuse.
--Jessica Grant

ticknor.jpg Ticknor
by Sheila Heti
Anansi, 2005

This is a strange little book, with impossibly obfuscated intentions. The story behind it is that Heti read The Life of William Hickling Prescott by George Ticknor in a coffee shop, and was moved to write a novel about this Ticknor. The question Ticknor raises might well be, what does it say about Canadian literature when our young writers find their inspiration in second-rate biographers of second-rate American historical figures from nearly a century ago? The relationship between Ticknor and Prescott is the kind of historical platonic friendship between men that died with the Wilde trials: the word love is bandied about, Ticknor obsesses for pages about whether Prescott will pay him any attention, and he begins a textbook relationship of hostility and jealousy with Clare, Prescott's wife. Yet the historical setting and style of the book are so well-executed, so proper and plain, that the book doesn't give the impression that it's trying to be revisionist or radical. All this may simply be due to the fact that the average Canadian reader knows next to nothing about Prescott–and our understanding of Ticknor, the man and the book–suffers for it.
--Matthew J. Trafford

faraway.jpg The Far Away Home
by Marci Denesiuk
NeWest, 2005

Denesiuk's characters gaze out at landscapes as clean-lined as an undetermined future. The solitary women who Denesiuk spins her stories around would be at home in an Edward Hopper painting: alone with their bodies, alone in rooms, alone among people. These characters' present solitude, in which the everyday has calcified into routine, is usually undercut by references to a more complicated past. And yet we most often find these characters in their moments of liberation, when they have just cut the few bonds that tie them, and Denesiuk lets us watch as they take their first steps towards freedom. Not every story in this volume is a narrative of flight; sometimes home is ultimately found not on the distant horizon but right where a character realizes, finally, she does belong. Indeed, as The Far Away Home's central metaphor seems to indicate, flight can signal the heady long-awaited beginning of a satisfying end.
--Dan Corry

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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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