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[Retro Review] Radio & Other Miracles by Terrance Cox

Radio and Other Miracles

Title: Radio & Other Miracles
Author: Terrance Cox
Publisher: Signature Editions
Year: 2001
Pages: 107

The poems of Terrance Cox’s Radio & Other Miracles (Signature Editions, 2001) are honest and rooted in the soil of the poet’s own life. These pieces, all connected in some way by the ever-present motifs of radio and music, recall times long (and not so long) gone, often moving between astonishment (at the transcendent power of a short-wave radio on a clear night or at a new-found ability to communicate across vast distances), nostalgia (for a schottische in the backwoods of Quebec or for Billie Holiday’s “delicious lick of lip”), and tribute (of an uncle who “could stickhandle like a devil” or of musicians such as Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk).

Radio & Other Miracles explores a history that is at once personal and shared. Relating to the reader tales of his youth and adulthood, Cox also re-imagines popular history (the days of humankind’s first tentative travels into space, Bob Marley’s death, and the first appearance of The Beatles on American TV), pondering – sometimes in celebration, sometimes in lament – the humanity that both unites and divides us:

In revels of a Saturday
& Sunday’s pop-tune praise,
great rifts heal & close
Babel was never built

We are, these nanoseconds,
sisters & brothers
blessedly one species. (“Saturday Night in the Central Region” 56)

What makes the book somewhat less enjoyable, however, is the way Cox drops definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an) from his sentences – almost like static interfering with the clarity and continuity of a radio’s signal (and just as annoying). It is a technique that can be quite intrusive, never allowing the reader to become fully absorbed into the moving and extremely detailed narratives the poet creates. Yet, once you get used to Cox’s style, the book, especially for a first collection, is certainly worth many readings.

Review previously published in the Danforth Review.

Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his partner Erin and their three cats — Finnegan, Pickles, and Claude — in Gleichen, Alberta, a small farming community an hour east of Calgary.

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[Retro Review] The Birdhouse, Or by Jamie Dopp

The Birdhouse, Or

Title: The Birdhouse, Or
Author: Jamie Dopp
Publisher: Ekstasis Editions
Year: 2002
Pages: 106

Jamie Dopp’s The Birdhouse, Or (Ekstasis Editions, 2002) is accessible, fresh, and conversational. The book delves into the poet’s everyday life, illustrating for the reader the profundity of simple existence:

I used to be ironic about my grandmother,
my colleagues, the way they seemed
to be trying to make themselves indispensable
(my grandmother, half-blind and past eighty,
on a church visit to comfort
“the old people”) until I realized

busyness like that is not about
claiming special value, or even expertise, but
only about creating the illusion that
something in this world requires
your attention. (“The Garden” 60)

The first three sections of the book are very strong, creating narratives that are honest, moving, and often revelatory. The first, “The Birdhouse, Or,” is about family, fatherhood, and belly buttons. Ranging between comical and contemplative, the poems in this part of the book examine the grand and minute details of a father building a birdhouse with his two small sons:

You are surprised and not surprised by the way
these moments come,
the four of you on the porch like that,
the birdhouse not only looking like a birdhouse but actually one. (“The Birdhouse, Or” 35)

The second section, “Limes,” is a quintet of poems that all refer to limes and the memories they conjure up for the poet: of past romantic relationships, of a bitter and “bourgeois” youth, of high school rivalries.

Finally, “Ed’s Red Car” is an elegiac section that centres around the memory of the poet’s late neighbour Ed, the red car he gave the author as his final gift, and how “death doesn’t change anyone”:

And afterwards, after the fear and sadness, I was also
much the same, no great new insights,
just my usual pipe dreams and virtues and neuroses
tempered only by a deepened humility
before the wonder and fragility of life. (“Death Doesn’t Change Anyone” 63)

All three of these opening sections are a delight to read.

Where the book falls short, however, is in the final two sections: the often too self-reflexive “Teaching Dreams” and the punnily titled and perplexing “Arse Poetica.” Perhaps too many years as a university student and then as an English lecturer have jaded me towards poems about teaching and English courses; or maybe it was a former prof, who would scrawl “BORING!” in big green letters across the top of any story about writing or having to do with being a student. I’m not sure of the cause, but I do know that these poems are far less interesting than the ones that precede them.

“Arse Poetica,” on the other hand, while certainly not boring, is simply too much of a self-indulgent poetic exercise, and it mars an otherwise enjoyable book. The “arse” of the title ends up being the reader, as Dopp takes him/her on what the back of the book generously calls “a dazzling and dizzying tour de force.” And certainly it is dizzying, though not much else, which is too bad, considering the strength of the rest of the collection.

Review previously published in the Danforth Review.

Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his partner Erin and their three cats — Finnegan, Pickles, and Claude — in Gleichen, Alberta, a small farming community an hour east of Calgary.

Add comment January 25th, 2006

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