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Archive for August, 2006

Just Living by William Robertson

just living

Title: Just Living
Author: William Robertson
Publisher: Coteau
Year: 2005
Pages: 80

Review by Sharon Berg.

From first glance, William Robertson is not afraid of taking risks, whether they are emotional or lyrical. Each poem in Just Living records a moment in the journey toward a man’s transformation. As snapshots instead of portraits, the overall effect is to involve the reader in assembling the series which, together, paint a picture. In its entirety the book exposes the raw angst of a man who strays from his marriage. Yet in gathering the story, poem by poem, one discovers wonderful twists of language that turn clichéd phrases into fresh insights about how this particular fellow processed both his fall from grace and his rise to greater personal insight. In fact, Robertson turns the tale of common betrayal into an exposé of the intrigue and mystique employed by an ordinary man as he justifies his turn away from his prior commitments. However, this is also how the book fails. It is a question of who the audience is posited to be. Whatever his intentions, what results - though interesting in its own right - is a portrait of a man who tries to explain himself to himself.

In this fourth collection of his poetry, Robertson manages to turn the title “just living” into an ironic phrase; for the sojourn relayed between these covers is that of a man who questions and challenges everyday assumptions about what it means to be conscious within one’s life. The subtitles for three sections also suggest premeditation when, as the book opens upon his dilemma, we discover a man in the midst of sabotaging his marriage (”Sabotage”), or weathering the storm that ensues from his betrayal (”Stormy Weather”) or, finally, his struggle to establish his new abode (”My Home with You”).

Robertson usually carries the reader along on his journey, like a flea on a dog’s back, as witness to every twist and turn. In effect, we encounter revelations as he did in “Patience”.

my father beside me
trying his best to explain
how to love a woman, perhaps
let another go,
the seventy-year-old minister
standing dumbfounded,
even angry, before his son
at the end of all he knows.

Yet, on the few occasions when he attempts to portray the thoughts or feelings of his lover from her point of view the experience feels unsuccessfully voyeuristic. Articulating the dynamics of his own growing awareness is fluid, while articulating the relationship built between himself and his lover is both difficult and clumsy, as in telling “Why We Fought”.

We fought because you said you liked
Diana. That she was more
than just a newspaper star. I didn’t say
anything. Later I said something stupid.
Or perhaps unkind. Then
something else.

In this instance, there is no clear personal insight to offer either a sense of conclusion to the poem or a resolution of the issue that arose between the lovers. As a result, though it is an interesting read, on the whole this book reveals a man’s inward journey rather than the road toward improved relations.

In fact, despite delivering a strong sense of self-discovery, the reader soon realises this is a man who remains overwhelmed by the flotsam that follows him downstream after he leaves the safety of his marriage. It is as if he witnesses but fails to see the impact of his own actions upon those who are closest to him. Yet, in a poem that reveals his daughter’s misery, it appears he is unable to comprehend her angst apart from his own. In “Message” he reports his reaction to news of the girl:

Just sit at the table and ponder
the latest words with my wife
how she retrieved our daughter’s
belongings from the Y
full of bloody rags and notes
about slashing, the girl run to Vancouver…

But the setting for his pondering is the bare basement apartment he acquired after leaving the marriage, and this tragic news is juxtaposed with a postcard image taped to his wall above carved initials, both of which are remnants of the previous tenants.

… pueblo church
in New Mexico with two
wooden crosses.

He lives there as if he is a guest in someone else’s space, as if he is not responsible for his situation. He suggests there are:

… no words
I can send about the room I’m in,
cuttings in the walls, a couple
of crosses on a postcard meaning
someone made a mistake, someone
supposedly died for my sake

and later:

The thin white lines on her wrists
are part of a mystery to me…

Instead of working to resolve issues, he allows tragedy to pile upon tragedy in the life of the man that he once was, in the life of the family that he once belonged to. He concludes his comments on Sabotage with a poem that echoes with Charlie Parker’s jazz and says:

There was nothing about the night that I’d call extraordinary. Just
me sabotaging my marriage. I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t all
that unhappy. I just needed something else, and she did too.

The naming of the deed, becomes ironic because no action is taken to remedy the situations that fall away from the deed.

So the saving grace in this portrait of his long fall might be to offer a heartfelt explanation of why a man would leave a stable home. Yet, he answers with “Embrace”:

Because your golden bracelet smoothed up and down your slender
wrist, forearm to hand that I would hold and kiss

Because your green dress measured softly those places I would
take my tongue, my fingers, the long lean inside of my leg

Because your flat brown shoes looked so easy to undo…

He continues with “Your Hands”, touching on the cliché that men leave their marriages not for who the new woman is but rather for how they make the man feel about himself:

Your hands make me beautiful
stroking my belly, the hairs
on my chest, used to be I could
hardly get undressed in light…

Indeed, he is still perturbed that other people impinge upon his newfound sense of rightness with their anger or disappointment. Even his son’s sense of humour in “Funny Guy” is deemed inconsiderate:

My son wants to be a funny guy
has been making up jokes for years …

After a father-son fishing trip punctuated by hot sun, mis-casts, tangled lures and other disappointments they:

Get home and he hides my drink
hides my knife when I go to clean
his fish, looking me in the face each time
Is this funny, Dad? Are you
laughing yet?

At this point, Robertson seems mired in self pity steeped in anger, concluding:

… I left your mother and you’re
a real kidder now, making a joke
of everything I do.

As a woman, and as a mother, I have to ask the author to step out of himself to acknowledge relationships are not a one-sided response to how the other makes you feel.

In “So Healthy”, he struggles to resist the sexualized objectification of his new woman at a point when she is violently ill:

your stomach’s a riot and I am offering
slices of orange melon, a bright
yellow banana, the pop in your mouth
of sweet grapes and the raspberry
tips of your breasts sway before me
as you lean at me begging
with an outstretched cup
for a bit more tea…

He manages to redeem himself, resisting taking her, because:

… all that makes the decent man
in me pours your tea…

yet he continues:

… promising myself,
with your healthy compliance,
the eager taste of those
tart red fruits the moment your
bees start bussing again.

On the whole, this book is succinct in its portrait of the journey that this man takes in leaving his marriage. Robertson articulates his tale with a powerful twist of imagery and language that makes for many memorable moments, worthy of a treasured photo album. But the resolution of his journey is less obvious and for that reason the book struggles to rise above its omissions of insight when dealing with the life and people he has left behind. As a portrait, it appears the protagonist is still struggling to understand himself apart from rather than within his relationships. It is something like the story of a sailor who is drawn to the water rather than the shores on either side of the channel he travels across. One is still left wondering, if not for love of the journey, what place does he identify as home? What people have truly captured his heart beyond his imagination? The answer is not here.

Sharon Berg has authored several poetry books, audio collections, and academic works. She is the founding editor of Big Pond Rumours.

Add comment August 29th, 2006

The Hunt on the Lagoon by S.P. Zitner


Title: The Hunt on the Lagoon
Author: S.P. Zitner
Publisher: Goose Lane
Year: 2006
Pages: 102

Review by Liam Ford.

The last two poems of S.P. Zitner’s post-humously published collection, The Hunt on the Lagoon, deal somewhat comically with the state of poetry inCanada. He reports in “The Prospect Behind Us” that “there are more Canadian poets than Canadians who read them” (3). In “Last,” he laments how “these poems / will doze on the bookstore’s lowest shelves, / to which few readers deign to stoop” (12-14). Unfortunately, that is a probable reality for one volume of Canadian poetry that actually deserves to be read. The Hunt on the Lagoon is accessible, affecting, and vast.

Each of these poems builds towards an almost enlightening insight and is written clearly, eschews academic diction, constructs a compelling narrative, and paints easily visualized pictures. Zitner puts into words sensations that we only feel, either as a warming of the heart, a tingling of the brain, a swelling of the eyes — sensations usually left un-elucidated, referred to simply as longing or yearning, thirst or hunger. Zitner has a unique empathy that allows him to express the thoughts of a newborn or a ten-year-old, a young man in the throes of his first love, a regretful college graduate, a guest at a dinner party, an adulterer, a disenchanted husband, an elder enjoying a performance of Schumann, a convalescent in a hospital bed, and a victim of heart disease down the long white hall.

The volume is named after Carpaccio’s “The Hunt on the Lagoon,” which is reproduced on the cover. In “The Hunt on the Lagoon (1493?): Carpaccio,” placed near the end of the book, Zitner declares that “we invent the world we love” (27). This line carries us back to the first poems of the collection, “Weed” and “Rodent,” which remind the reader of the oneness of plant, animal, and human, and of our privileged position in this company. What Zitner does in these poems, and through the whole collection, is inspire “a forbidden breathing of spirit into things” (“Handkerchiefs” 19). He can as easily put himself into the form of the weed or body of the rat, or that of a dispossessed object, as he can into the infinite forms of a human. Forbidden is an important word, because atrocities of war and love, adultery, abandonment, anticipation of that which won’t come to pass, and the humiliations inherent in our mortal bodies, are all themes that Zitner evokes heart-wrenchingly and triumphantly.

In “The Mirrors,” uncertain lovers unite in a fancy restaurant. The man seems out of place, sitting low in his chair. The woman arrives late, and “Jewels // of rain are glistening on the fur of her coat and hat” (10-11). The stanza break allows the imagination a moment to wonder: does he sit low in his chair because he doesn’t want to be seen? Are they unsuited because she is of a higher social class? But no; she has simply been caught in the rain, and the sight of her exalts him from his seat.

In “The Transfer,” an invalid, almost devoid of humanity, draws from the poet a motherly empathy; he sees an

and joy-of-being cry out from within,
largely unheard – like trolls
imprisoned in a mountain.

The tragedy is not in the invalid’s condition, but in our response to it, our desire to shun him because of his hideousness, in our inability to see the humanity inside of the monstrosity. These poems unearth both “things fallen or unsprouted” (“Recalling Frances” 13), while liberating the hope of “a brighter chance / in the redundant dawn” (“To Inexactness” 5-6).

What more could we ask of poetry than to remind us of our humanity, of the balance of glory and grief, to illuminate moments that allow us to transcend our flesh and blood animality and give us a glimpse of our quiescent, manifest spirituality, and then to leave us satisfied, peaceful, and content as in “the moment [where] no one is thinking / of something to say next” (“A Little Chocolate” 13-14). Reader, next time you’re at your the bookstore, skip the A’s, B’s and C’s, and deign to stoop down to the Z’s.

Liam Ford lives in Coquitlam, BC.

Add comment August 23rd, 2006

Invisible Foreground by David Bateman


Title: Invisible Foreground
Author: David Bateman
Publisher: Frontenac House
Year: 2005
Pages: 87

Review by Jenn Houle.

David Bateman’s Invisible Foreground is easily among the most interesting and enjoyable poetic collections I have read since the turn of the millennium. I was worried, when I first opened it, and saw the many long, free verse installments ahead of me. I could tell by the book’s layout that I was in for a long, conversational interlude. I was in for anecdotes, story and spin, and this unnerved me, because, unfortunately, this is a style of poetry that has been going largely wrong for many years now, maybe since the 70s, when English-language poets could still confess and consider at length and not be in any sort of shamed rush about it. It looked like the sort of poetry which might get reviewed as “rollicking” or “free-wheeling”. I also noted the presence of two double-columned poems, another form I have rarely found to be engaging—the mirroring attempted so frequently serves only to disorient.

And yet: the next thing I knew, I was rather entranced. Bateman’s tone is always congenial, and he achieves an ease with his subjects that I found refreshing, intellectually engaging, compelling and a lot of fun. Bateman is a performance artist, and that’s another thing I was uptight and tetchy about at first: all too often I have found that performative or spoken-word poetry, though possibly excellent on its own terms, translates horrendously as reading material. But Bateman’s work holds up well in this regard—assuming much of the content was originally constructed for performance, which a back-jacket blurb suggests it was. I would even go so far as to say it constitutes one of the most successful examples of this I have ever seen. There are many linguistic tricks, but none are painfully self-indulgent, or solely for the sake of themselves. The puns and the plays on words come at exactly the right times, and often come almost like wisdom. There is a great sagacity in Bateman, and the emotional intelligence he brings to sometimes jarring, sometimes deceptively trivial material is what distinguishes this collection.

Because, oh yes, there are drag queens here. And there is homosexuality; there are meditations on sexual identity, sexual development (including a very tastefully handled acknowledgment of sexual abuse), and there are many, many references to home décor. There is a trip to Vegas. And, yet, there is profundity, depth, a highly textured whole—background, foreground, subjects, all. I did wish Cher hadn’t been mentioned, because I felt it a smidge too obvious, and the speaker’s claim that he believes “in Cher” (16), early on, made me roll my eyes just a little. Come on, Bateman, be a little less obvious, right? Truthfully, there were several instances where a bit of editing for preciosity might have benefited individual poems, for instance, the punch of “Semi Detached” (31) might be lost when

the appalling majesty of the suburbs
communes of fortune
legacy of evolving house husbands/wives
men’s eyes
circular stares
cases of imported beer


to crave the present of nostalgia here
in these quaint tombs
queer treed lots


hot tubs, the sound of trains beyond the fortress wall
intimating life outside this camp atrocious kitsch
this glorious denial

is suddenly concluded with “I want to live here!” (31). Could be sarcasm, could be meant as a joke, could be the voice of some conflicted character, but it is never clear, and it is certainly a too-cute ending. More could have been done here to clarify, as far as tone goes, but this is a minor quibble.

At times, the collection is outright funny, “Two thirds haiku on trans gender, for Tammy Wynette”: “sometimes it makes me/hard to be a woman” (66), being my favorite instance. On occasion, the humor seems just a little too clichéd, although, to be fair, this is a collection that culls much of its content from the myriad clichés of the cultural landscapes we inhabit and traverse. The land itself, of course, being the ultimate cliché. In fact, one of the most surprising elements of this collection is its sustained meditation on the land—I was somehow put in mind of Milton Acorn whenever this theme shimmered into focus. Did the figures in Bateman’s landscapes make them? The collection’s title would suggest otherwise, as would most of the poems. Contrariwise, were they made invisible by the landscape? I tend to think not—the people in these poems seem to have created themselves despite the environments the previous generation raised them in. They find ways to inhabit the clichés, live with the ugly, overbearing furniture, live within the prevalent myths of their time (become fans of Cher?), as survivors, as affronts, or incidental radicals. Do they adorn the landscape, if not create its structures? Do they simply redecorate it rather than destroy it? Several interesting analogies are suggested.

In the introductory and tone-setting poem “Storey and a Half”, Bateman writes:

when I go to land that asserts itself disallows intervention
I am distant, awed and somewhat relieved
by the claustrophobic grammar of my prison sentence
by puns
by no real felt obligation to make sense of any of this
save the scars on my ideas of order, of the world,
so profoundly destabilized (13)

I may have been reminded of Acorn, but the American Wallace Stevens is the poet most frequently alluded to here; “The Idea of Order at Key West” is referenced more than once, and this is telling. Stuck within such deterministic landscapes, songs, not trains, become methods of conveyance. An awareness of culture as a made and communicated thing informs the entire collection. In “Summer on the West Nile: a parannoyed monologue” Bateman captures the Toronto cityscape at the height of the SARS scare in great, derisive detail and, from there, launches into a consideration of all North American cities: “these ice-ageist white trading centers” (83). Bateman is a master surveyor, and his evaluation of what he observes is both clever and scathing—but to his credit, he shows far, far more than he tells.

On that note, this collection is also profoundly sexual, but there was nothing cheap or prurient in Bateman’s treatment of this always difficult subject matter. It is, in fact, without a doubt, in these poems that his voice is the strongest, and most moving. I wouldn’t call his style strictly erotic: it is much too realistic for that. One of the double-columned poems I had been so dreading, “Autumn,” is actually a wonderful example of this:

Nights that fluctuate
from the faintest chill
to almost pudding warmth
then this frail breeze
some bed of goldenrod
I call it ragweed

the faintest chill
your almost pudding warmth
to this frail code
between us nothing happens
but the blunt insatiate
way you fuck me


I didn’t mind the double-columns and I found the sex illuminating. True, the collection could have benefited from the murders of a few darlings. But overall, especially for a debut (although, I sense, a long, long overdue debut it is), the good outweighs the bad. Bateman’s candor, wit and willingness to risk cliché for the sake of authenticity are rare in Canadian lit right now, and I sincerely hope we will see (and hear) a good deal more from him. Whether or not Bateman chooses to continue focusing on live performance, his skill as a poet is too great not to be put down on paper, and edited a little bit more for the page. Not too much though — and definitely not at the cost of his candor or his witty, cutting (yet somehow also, optimistic) insights.

Jenn Houle lives, works and writes in Shediac, New Brunswick. Her poetry has appeared in Lichen (winner of 2004’s serial poetry contest) and is forthcoming in Arc and The Antigonish Review. She is currently working on her first collection of poems.

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Add comment August 17th, 2006

Gutted by Evie Christie


Title: Gutted
Author: Evie Christie
Publisher: ECW Press
Year: 2005
Pages: 71

Review by Greg Santos.

Evie Christie’s debut, Gutted, is filled with observations on subjects as diverse as alcoholism, faith, family, friendship, love, and loss. It is a book that showcases the poet’s admirable handle on the everyday, revealing the world’s beauty without ignoring its darker side.

There are a few poems, though, at the beginning that are troubling. “I Love Alcoholics” begins with, “I do, it’s not just an eye-catching title” (4). There’s something about that self-referential start that irks me, particularly because I didn’t believe the title was that eye-catching. The poem continues:

Their hearts are big and broken,
Preserved in their childhood, their first love
Or some bloody car wreck, preserved
In bourbon, tequila, whatever.
Bruised and bloody, swishing around
In their chest, beating away
To a sad, angry rhythm, and they love
Their mothers and they are so beautiful
When they’re drunk that you love them
When they’re sober and ugly too.
And they wait patiently for you
To get fed up, for you to leave them,
And if you do they’ll love you forever.
(”I Love Alcoholics” 4)

The image of a broken heart preserved in alcohol is beautiful and full of sorrow but part of me always cringes when alcoholism is romanticized. Similarly, I was uncomfortable with the way the homeless seem glamourized when Christie writes, “Those bums winking, whistling, calling out to me, Hey little girl, made me feel like a million bucks today. I would say/ to them, Were you ever boys? I would say, I love you, you bums.” (”The Bums Out Front of the Scott Mission” 9).

Due to my uneasy impressions of the aforementioned poems, I had a hard time connecting with many of the early pieces and few of them stood out. There were, however, some strong images that caught my attention, such as the highly original description of an ugly street corner: “the ugliest corner of Toronto’s west end lit up for me/ in pastel Easter cellophane and washed out fast food hues” (”Come and Break My Heart” 1). It wasn’t really until page 16 that the poet’s deft use of straightforward, plainspoken language began to affect me:

I rely on cheap drink nights, domestic beer served
four to a bucket. The bartender here has bitten my friend
in a half-assed fight and the trucker to my left knows
every damn secret the Coca-Cola company holds dear.
(”Because I Don’t Have a Muse” 16)

It is in poems like this where Christie’s hard edge shines, the speaker often taking a disinterested tone, which provides the reader with a glimpse into a contemporary landscape filled with frustration, indifference, and loss. For instance, in “Nig, Son of Debbie,” the speaker says, “I have no history, a secret mythology of corn roasts/ and Tupperware, sitcoms and house pets. My dad may be a Jew/ and my mom a Gypsy nomad and besides I don’t care” (21).

I was also particularly drawn to the pervasive darkness of poems like “Moving to Doc Ford’s House,” where the speaker’s mother discovers old soda and pill bottles buried in the dirt — remnants from a former tenant’s suicide. Or in “The Properties of Loss” where the aftermath of a volatile storm reduces manmade objects into fragile body parts:

In the American Midwest last week tornadoes
gave proper endings to so many trailers
and porches and bikes; somewhere a bus litters
appendages on a hot dusty street, but this new death
leaves us barren.

This may seem like a depressing read, but within the darkness there is still a sense of longing, a glimmer of hope that the many voices within the collection will find what it is they so desperately seek. The yearning, whether it is for love, friendship, or something else, is most evident at the end of “Not a Love Poem”:

And remember, old friend, though we weren’t born to be
Lovers, we were born together, naked and bloody, into April.
And know that I’m awake, the clocks set ahead or back, waiting
To hear happy birthday or I miss you something terrible.

While some of the early poems left me scratching my head, Gutted is ultimately an impressive first collection, one that should be mulled over. Evie Christie’s words should be taken in slowly, first to get accustomed to their bitterness, but more importantly, to savour the richness of their depth.

Greg Santos is a poet, writer, and artist from Montreal. His work has been featured in print and online publications, such as Matrix, Feathertale, and Black Heart. He has short stories forthcoming in Sage of Consciousness, The Gloaming, and will have a poetry broadside published by ImPress at the end of summer 2006. Read his blog at moondoggy.blogspot.com.

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Add comment August 10th, 2006

The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy edited by Robert Budde


Title: The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy
Author: Edited by Robert Budde
Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier UP
Year: 2006
Pages: 96

Review by Rob Taylor.

As The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy was being shipped to me for review, I had already developed one question-itch that I was desperate to scratch: Why the hell was someone putting out another Purdy book? Not that I was unhappy about it, Purdy being one of my favourite poets, but I figured the market on Purdy collections had already been successfully cornered. Those in need of a Purdy sampler could turn to the 1996 edition Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996, while those with heartier appetites could munch their way through Purdy’s posthumously released Beyond Remembering: Collected Poems (2000). What new market could be served by a 35 piece collection of poems already featured in one, if not both, of the aforementioned books? Such dogged competition over Canadian poetry, even Al’s, seems like a stretch.

The true, “new” intention of the collection, and, more generally, of the Laurier Poetry Series of which it is part, is revealed in series’ General Editor Neil Besner’s Foreword: “The hope that animates these new series…is that that these volumes will help to create and sustain the larger readership that contemporary Canadian poetry so richly deserves.” A noble goal, without question, and one Besner seems to believe can be achieved through the classroom, where, because of the Laurier series, “the practice of teaching a poet through eight or twelve poems from an anthology will be much improved upon” (v).

It seems only fair then to approach a review of The More Easily Kept Illusions from the perspective of the editors’ intended audience: “new readers” of contemporary Canadian poetry. In this sense, I can say that the poems selected for inclusion by editor Robert Budde give an honest taste of Purdy, both accessible and convoluted, often at the same time (a rare feat, in my mind). The point should be made, though, that any “introductory” book on Purdy that leaves out “The Country North of Belleville,” “The Cariboo Horses,” and many other of his most well known and heralded poems will leave the reader with an incomplete picture of the man and his work.

Only so much, though, can be achieved within 35 poems. Indeed, choices must be made as to which of Purdy’s many personae are displayed to new Purdy readers. Budde, a professor of creative writing and critical theory at the University of Northern British Columbia, reveals his personal bias in including a good number of Purdy’s reflexive poems on his own writing, and on the act of writing in general (“After Rain,” “On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems,” “Trees at the Arctic Circle,” etc.). Budde balances these poems, assumedly of greater interest to creative writing students, with some of Purdy’s more free-flowing, funny, and biting pieces, such as “Home-Made Beer” and the unforgettable “When I Sat Down to Play the Piano,” which finds Purdy

sans dignity
sans intellect
sans Wm. Barret
and damn nearly sans anus.

Budde’s attempt to balance Purdy’s reflexive, quasi-academic pieces with some of his comical narratives is certainly limited, with the former group of poems firmly outnumbering the latter, causing the more humorous pieces to seem a bit out of place in the collection. Still, these poems, if read by the unfamiliar, will probably go further than any of the others in The More Easily Kept Illusions to achieve Besner’s goal of growing interest in modern Canadian poetry.

While some poems do appear a bit lost among their companions in this collection, others play off of each other in intriguing and often profound ways. The poem “Red Leaves,” for example, which addresses “red leaves / and the way humans attach emotion / to one little patch of ground” (64), is followed by “Orchestra” and its description of the “warm red darkness / of the cherry-coloured violin” (65). Likewise, the collection ends with a one-two punch of “Untitled” and “For Her in Sunlight” that would put the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots to shame.

Budde’s arrangement of the poems does help enhance the experience of reading Purdy’s work, but in the end it is hardly necessary. Purdy’s poetry in this collection, as in any, is rich, compelling and challenging. His is a landscape of “moonlight on running water / leaf-talk in the forest” (“In the Early Cretaceous” 57), where “Death is…howled thru the mouths of dogs” (“Remains of an Indian Village” 3). As Budde notes in his introduction, Purdy’s craftsmanship elevates ideas and images - even single words - to levels thought unimaginable before, as in the closing word “tenderness” in “In the Early Cretaceous” (59).

Both The More Easily Kept Illusions and Selected Poems would serve those new to Purdy’s work well as an introduction, because the poems within both are real and true Purdy, and real and true Canadian classics. The More Easily Kept Illusions, though, falls short of being what Purdy’s Selected is in that it is still stuck in the University classroom, a place with an all too finite audience, and does little to reach out to the wider Canadian society. How can that be accomplished? Drop the foreword, introduction, and afterword, and give the reader as much Purdy as you can. Leave the new reader to Purdy and his devices. Let them observe him “pitting fish eggs and bear grease against eternity” (“The Horseman of Agawa” 36). Let the poems be themselves, free from academic prodding, and, like a batch of Purdy’s wild grapes, watch them ferment in the minds of readers.

Rob Taylor lives in Port Moody, BC and recently released his first chapbook splattered earth. He just learned how this blog thing worked and is giving it a shot: rollofnickels.blogspot.com.

Add comment August 9th, 2006

Canada Post by Jason Christie

canada post

Title: Canada Post
Author: Jason Christie
Publisher: Snare Books
Year: 2006
Pages: 106

Review by derek beaulieu.

With Canada Post, Jason Christie troubles the nation as lyric poem, and the poem as lyric nation; the “tremors between capital and periods” (“Ataxis and thrum or the internet avenger” 34).

Jason Christie moved to Calgary in 2001 to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Calgary, and has been actively involved in the Calgarian poetic community, usually through very small, intimate actions. His yarDPress published sporadic poetic items, and his yard reading series took place in backyards, living rooms, and other home-spaces.

These small, intimate poetic gestures worked outside the larger community-driven defining features of literary community, cleaving a space to discuss work outside of grand narratives. Much like those gestures, Canada Post realizes that “our hands, when they finally touch, invent the rest of the alphabet” (“La Guerre, C’est Moi!” 31).

Throughout Canada Post, Christie returns to the issue of unity — both the national myth, and its poetic cousin, the unified, humanist subject: that looming lyrical, capital “I.” By carefully avoiding the lyric conceit of completed-ness, Canada Post becomes an interrogation of how we define. Here, the nation-state, like the mind-state, becomes a place of flux and fragmentation.

The traditional, mythic idea of Canada as a rugged, untamed nation of pioneers and explorers slowly disassembles. “This is simply pastoral,” but what is “this”? — the nation, our definitions and mindset; and the poem itself. Poetry is ultimately a pastoral exercise: we move our words, like sheep, across the page (“Deere John” 37).

Canada Post — which is Jason Christie’s first book of poetry and the first book published by Montréal’s Snare books — doesn’t buy the nationalistic legend, and instead asks that the reader, the you, “build me a nation less like a pine tree but more neon.” The nation and the individual blur into a single, insufficient myth-container: “Make it rain. Let me, I said, be defined as a container, a lake. […] A nation guards against loneliness. A nation excludes you, it is a container, a lake, a geography” (“Language as a Vernal Confier Séance” 17).

Throughout Canada Post, Christie uses the indicators of nationhood to interrogate interpersonal relationships. Nations are simultaneously created and uncreated through conversation: “When you said it rained, did you mean like Queen Victoria and I just heard the typo?” (“Deere John” 37).

Christie manipulates the poetic address (the speaking “I” addressing an implicit “you”) to make the reader aware of her own inherent support of those nation-building narratives: “Oh, are you now in the plot?” (“Swerve (Gentle Grade)” 73). The quotidian language of the day-to-day — the way that Christie interrupts more politically charged poems with a personal address — serves to underscore how consumerism equates understanding: “I’m at home in a First world kind of way tonight if you’d like to bring over some DVDs and cheap Italian wine” (“Deere John” 37).

A soft nostalgia imbues Canada Post, but nostalgia is mythos — it is the yearning for the impossible, and never-realized “good old days.” Christie (like Vancouver’s Jeff Derksen), uses nostalgia to address the nefariousness of myth, and the way that it defines our memories, and our sense of self: “Gee, I remember when everyone had a pool in their backyard.” We are who we are told to be, “the headlines are / behind the times” (“Desert People versus Forest People” 75).

But poetry is classically a tool of nation building, and Canada Post is acutely aware that the poetry is “a sequence of grifts where you move your wallet to, and then you move there too.” In Canada Post, the grift is acknowledged and expressed in miniature — it troubles its support of nation in favour of smaller gestures: the neighbourhood, the street, the home and the DMZ between your couch and your television.

derek beaulieu has been an editor of dANDelion, endnote and twice at filling Station (1998-2001 and 2004-present) in addition to editing housepress from 1997-2004. He is the author, or co-author, of 3 books of poetry, and the co-editor of the anthology Shift & Switch: new Canadian poetry. His work has appeared in over 80 journals and he has spoken about poetry and community in Canada, the US and England over the last few years.

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