The simple fact that this review is written for an online audience greatly increases the chances that you will have already heard of Fredericton (formerly Ottawa)-based poet Jesse Ferguson. Amongst the plethora of poets whose work has found a strong footing in online and small-press publications, Ferguson is near the top of the list in both quantity and quality. To attest to this one need look no further than the acknowledgements page of his chapbook Near Cooper Marsh, which notes that the fifteen poems in the collection have been published in no fewer than ten small-press magazines.
It is therefore in keeping that Near Cooper Marsh itself has been published online (http://www.fridaycircle.uottawa.ca/ferguson/ii-6-main.html) as part of the Friday Circle Chapbook Series out of the University of Ottawa’s Creative Writing Program. I encourage you to follow the link and read the poems yourself. If you do, you will find a collection of work that deals with ‘nature’ in the truest sense of the word – not a pristine, untouched wilderness, but a muddy place of intersect between humans and the environment.
The title and cover photo (a boardwalk slicing through the middle of a marsh) of Near Cooper Marsh set the stage, as all good titles and covers should, for the themes of the poems themselves – wildness, civility, and a proximity to things both beautiful and unsettling. The poems then expand upon these ideas, as in “Beer and Rock Bass”:
once, I wormed my finger
into the peapod rib cage
of a rock bass, so deep
that when I retrieved it
autumn had come
and “The Creek Behind My House”:
clay holds on to your boots and as you squirm free smacks its chops like a smiling boy hungry for hotdogs picking souvenir leeches from his winter-white legs
At their best, the poems in Near Cooper’s Marsh capture the essence of the in-between world of ‘nature’ with an understated care. While some of the poems lack the subtle edge that gives the collection its charm, most get it right, and when they do, as in “Goldfinches Near Cooper Marsh,” they exude a particular sense of magic that, like nature itself, is both complicated and pure:
Goldfinches Near Cooper Marshdozens of saffron sky bound bubbles bursting above a sunflower field swerving effervescent flight paths carbonating a champagne sky
Near Cooper Marsh is a chapbook that deserves to be read far more widely than the average chapbook can ever hope to be, and thankfully, as with much of Ferguson’s work in small-press magazines, its online component makes this possible. But don’t take my word for it.