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May Books

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Issue: 36 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

April 21, 2006

May Books

caribou_web.jpgCariboo Magi
Lucia Frangione
Talonbooks: Vancouver, 2005.

In Frangione's seventh script, she chooses bold hilarity as a means of tackling themes of longing, belonging, duty, and deception. A rag-tag set of characters disguise themselves as a theatre troupe and head north from San Diego to the booming Gold Rush town of Barkerville. They are diverse failures: the child actress who has outgrown her roles, the tipsy Anglican minister who has never converted a single soul. With her typical high energy, Frangione here employs both linguistic and physical comedy. Sarcastic Taishanese (Chinese dialect) and broken Chinook are mixed with snippets of Hamlet, The Last of the Mohicans, A Christmas Carol, and the Gospel of Luke. Occasional inconsistencies of character (the sudden prudery of the saloonkeeper) and meter (in Joe Mackey's narrative doggerel) would likely be overlooked in the hilarity of performance. Between false auspices and half-practiced social niceties, between the pastiched stories and their mishmash compilation, these characters invoke a genuine renewal of spirit.
--Jane Henderson

lemon-hound_web.jpgLemon Hound
Sina Queyras
Coach House: Toronto, 2006.

Any misgivings generated by a book of prose poetry which claims to be, "among other things, a direct response to and engagement with the work of Virginia Woolf" are entirely dissipated on first contact with Sina Queyras' third collection of poetry, Lemon Hound. To the contrary, this collection proves Queyras to be a poet of incredible skill and competence, capable of taking such daunting literary giants as Woolf and Gertrude Stein and interacting with their work in a way which is utterly compelling, contemporary, and uniquely her own. Queyras grapples with the same geographies and issues as in her other collection —Brooklyn and Toronto, international affairs, the state of feminism—yet she retains her amazing capacity for playful sensuality: "In another poem a woman might/ find pleasure in the sound of her own words, … see the city/ as a pleasant backdrop. In another poem a woman/ might couplet." Queyras bends language, giving us "girls who bite off more than they can eschew," and a stunning array of verbized nouns and nounified verbs: "the smell of bread queases her," "she is brisk and thumbing," "she hinges about feelings." The imagery, repetition, and philosophic range of these poems make for an engrossing and satisfying read.
--Matthew J. Trafford

swiftly_web.jpgHow We All Swiftly: The First Six Books
Don Coles
Signal Editions: 2005.

There's no denying that How We All Swiftly is an important book. It showcases work from Coles' early volumes, some out of print and all under-read. Unusual in the writing world, Coles emerged fully formed, publishing his first book of poetry well into his forties. There's the temptation to pin the undeniable quality here on this late entry into writing; with no evidence of youthful missteps, all the work seems refined. Here, there's wisdom without pedantry, beauty without flash. Coles is a poet of precision and clarity. His conscious decision to use ordinary language is evident; anyone can access what's on these pages. The love poems presented here are particularly rewarding. "It is More than Common Privilege," for instance, is both formal and intensely erotic, an exercise in gentlemanly lust that rings truer than many a contemporary poet's attempts to sizzle. Also noteworthy is the long poem "The Prinzhorn Collection." Coles writes about real art through an imagined persona—that of a museum curator fascinated by drawings and letters created by asylum inmates in late nineteenth-century Germany. The effect is deeply moving and thoughtful. The same is true of this entire impressive volume.
--Regan Taylor

complaints_web.jpgThe Complaints Department: A Northern Novel
Susan Haley
Gaspereau: Wolfville, 2005.

This reissue of Haley's 2000 novel explores the shifting power dynamics of Prohibition Creek, a small town in the Northwest Territories. When Robert Woodcutter's smarmy younger brother Danny wins the chief elections, his son goes to jail for assault, and his wife throws him out all on the same day, Robert designates himself the town's head and only board member of a much-needed Complaints Department. The structure of this novel reflects an interesting marriage of traditional Dene tales, with magical occurrences like the episode in which Robert's (disappointingly wide-eyed) love-interest, Rebecca, gets caught in the body of a caribou, and a Victorian romance, in which townswomen start up a petition to eject her from the community because of her questionable sexual ethics. Haley makes some odd choices: while a central initial question—can men and women be friends?—is raised early on, it is then inexplicably ignored, unless we take Robert and Rebecca's eventual romance as the implicit answer. Haley's strength here is in her depiction of family relationships in a context of rampant alcoholism and changing values, shown with all the bumbling awkwardness that adults evince when called upon to treat their parents and siblings like autonomous human beings.
--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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