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December Books

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Issue: 32 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

December 1, 2005

December Books

Modern and Normal
Karen Solie
Brick Books: London, Ont., 2005.

The compressed spaces of these poems string together to form a hard, true collection like a series of cruddy motel rooms in which someone has beeen reading Wittgenstein. Focus and register are constantly shifting, and the speakers shift too; the "I" of "Cardio Room, Young Women's Christian Association" claims she has "evolved/ in a flash, like the living flak/ of a nuclear mistake", and certainly Solie's ability to throw her voice into disparate personae feels sinister at times. Even the 'found' poems, from sources like calculus textbooks or ornithology guides, have an almost unholy savour. While Solie never wows us with a shiftless access to beauty we haven't earned, keeping her observations for the most part "dry-eyed and frostbit", there are a few poems that rush blind and headlong into romance. These employ complex structures that circle back on themselves, pronouns that change halfway through. These poems, and the book as a whole, pull off the trick that our most important interactions do-- we glide through confidently, then reach the end and realize we haven't understood a thing.
-- Linda Besner

The Boys, or, Waiting for the Electrician's Daughter
John Terpstra
Gaspereau Press, 2005

Terpstra's brothers-in-law—known in the family as "the boys"—were born with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, a debilitating illness which killed all three while still in their late teens or early twenties. Terpstra's project--assembling the fragmented, interwoven stories of their lives-- has produced this memoir without page numbers, structured by numbered segments from a phrase to a page long. His writing has a staccato lyricism, shifting constantly between the reflective and the matter-of-fact. "The boys" died more than twenty-five years ago, and this memoir asks, "Whose story is this?" as Terpstra grasps after illuminating information beyond his own memories. At times Terpstra's description feels excessive, as in the three pages explaining how Eric and Paul shot baskets from their wheelchairs. However, the reader comes to realize the import of the minutiae of movements and positioning that were central to the daily life The Boys recreates. Terpstra shows us a familial world operating on a different scale from that of the "able-bodied" everyday, one of both constant detailed discomfort and vast, irrepressible personality. "The boys proved it," Terpstra writes. "The simple fact of your created being is sufficient for all time. They proved it by being themselves and having no 'future.'"
-- Jane Henderson

Inter Alia
David Seymour
Brick Books, 2005

This book, Seymour's first, opens with a series of short, breathtaking pieces on the "Nomenclature of the Semi-Precious." Each improvisation launches from the name of a gemstone into luminous observation on some facet of life on earth, whether it's prehistory, in "Amber"—stones Seymour calls "fossils of regret"—or impending mortality, in "Black Opal." Here and throughout, objects artificial and natural are the poet's prisms, through which he deftly triangulates our place in the world.

Less successful is the final section, a "Fugue for the Gulf of Mexico," designed for three distinct voices. Over ten pages, phrases and stanzas repeat themselves in different positions on the page and, dismayingly, in differently-coloured inks. The classical-music counterpart is evoked, but the effect is not texture or resonance—just distraction. Perhaps this piece must be performed to be believed.

Other moments reveal Seymour as a newcomer still finding his subject, as in a letter to a newborn baby that cloyingly commiserates "I was sorry / to hear about the bris." On the whole, these bright, confident poems approach the world carefully, but always with an engaging readiness to play.
-- Regan Taylor

Change in a Razor-backed Season
Michal deBeyer
Gaspereau Press, 2005

Any reader who has enjoys long perambulations pondering the quality of light, grand epistemological questions, and the veracity of the senses will feel right at home with the poetic voice in this collection. Even a poem like "The Party", rather than focusing on the people gathered, examines an object and its philosophic import; in this case it's wine pouring from a cask into two glasses, and the possibilities for failure and success therein, that receives the author's attention. The other delight in this book is its unique "echolalia" technique. In these paired poems, a page length prose poem is followed by an echolalia -- a repetition of select words and phrases, arranged with line-breaks and spacing that twist the original syntax of the phrases and torque the images to reveal new meaning. The superlative poems here -- such as "Why Ghost Towns", "Imagining a Black Bear into the Parking Lot", "To Draw Blood from Stone" –tend to be the result of a lighter and more playfully imaginative tone than deBeyer exhibits in the rest of the collection.
-- 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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