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June Books

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Issue: 29 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

June 14, 2005

June Books

raderbook_web.jpgMiraculous Hours
by Matt Rader
Nightwood, 2005

There is a fierce, combustible feeling that burns down the lines of Rader's work, and not just in his poem "Firesetter", although it does contain the memorable advice, "life is a kind of burning, a moving towards ashes,/ so life your hands and be gone." It's present as well in the numerous poems that centre around a childhood in rural British Columbia, stories in which humans intersect with nature and each other at the point of a rifle. What's most striking about Rader's voice is the lack of attitudinizing; the brutal scenes he describes (the accidental crushing of a kitten's throat under a child's heel, a rape, a man hiding a dead body in the forest) are presented with respectful care and integrity, finished in language of high gloss. "Little survives a broken neck," he remarks in "Friendship". "I guess it was the fall of my shadow between the stairs that froze the only white one where it did/... caught in the drop of my body promised by that sudden black." Rader's speaker possess the fragile lucidity of one who encounters the world in all its violence and beauty.
--Linda Besner

Thirty-Seven Small Songs and Thirteen Silences
Jan Zwicky
Gaspereau, 2005

It's hard not to want more from this book than it can deliver. The title is no misnomer; these poems are sometimes small to the point of feeling inconsequential, and have a sing-song quality that verges on the repetitive in its use of hooks like the sky, the wind, the afternoon. The book is mainly a set of apostrophes to things like baths, anger, the voice of the nuthatch, etc., and Zwicky has adopted a style which deliberately shuns any obtrusively remarkable word-choice in order to create a wash of impressions. The result is often pleasant but forgettable, as in "Study: Aspen": "Shade that wears itself/ lightly in the morning breeze,/ and at noon, the sad sleep/ of its little pointed leaves./ Such sweet haze/ folds along the gully's flank/ in May." When Zwicky uses smallness as a springboard to larger conclusions, the poems are more arresting, as in "Small Song: Sandwiches", which cuts straight to the point with, "So: we are alive!" This collection is a dignified if not breathtaking addition to Zwicky's substantial body of work.
--Linda Besner

Beyond The Pale: Dramatic Writing From First Nations Writers and Writers Of Colour.
Yvette Nolan, Ed.
Playwrights Press, 2005.

While any attempt to amass bits and pieces of plays together in a book runs the risk of overwhelming its audience, Nolan's wise selection from works by thirty-one First Nations writers and writers of colour varies in writing style and subject matter without sacrificing cohesion. The anthology opens with a Canadian anthropology lesson, quickly moves to India to make patterns with rice powder, then travels back to Canada by way of a remembered Japan to tell a heart-breaking myth of love, creation, and destruction. The collection moves us through hilarity and horror, through the history book stories about Canada's First Nations, Blacks, Indians, Chinese, and Filipinos that we have never heard told this way, although they are ever-present to us as a cultural inheritance, a fine dust settled in our blood. We may be familiar with the history book versions, but this collection guarantees a chance to peek directly into the hearts and homes of the human beings behind the statistics.
--Moira Peters

The Sutler
Michael Kenyon
Brick Books, 2005

Michael Kenyon's debut book of poetry is astonishing in its soft clarity and poignancy. The poetic voice is remarkably developed for a first collection, and the poems benefit from a sense of wisdom and authority. Natural imagery ("I follow/ the small river// at the end of the green trail/ on whose far bank// the year's milky foxgloves/ tilt sinister; the path curves right") merges with images from the bedroom, the city, and the battlefield. The first of the collection's three parts explores the long slow breakup of a marriage. The middle section consists of two long poems about soldiers and war, the second of which gives the collection its title: a sutler was a camp-follower who sold provisions to soldiers - provisions often taken from the dead. The final section is about awakening and self-exploration, healing and self-discovery. The poems are rooted in the mind, asking psychological or existential questions, but Kenyon never forgets the tactile language of poetry; he keeps things fresh. Kenyon uses traditional poetic devices such as inverted syntax or exclamations like "O list to port," and "O the mud, the storm," yet in his skilled hands they never feel archaic or old-fashioned. An excellent read.
--Matthew J. Trafford

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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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