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POETRY: Art treatises nestle in raccoon tale

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TORONTO'S Beatriz Hausner takes a neo-surrealist approach to narrative poetry with Enter the Raccoon (BookThug, 72 pages, $18). Charting the highs and lows of a torrid love affair between a woman and a human-sized speaking raccoon with a mechanical hand, Enter the Raccoon nestles a series of miniature treatises on art between the exploits of this raccoon/machine/lover. Hybrid after hybrid, Hausner brings together not-so-distant-after-all subjects like the sadistic erotica of Georges Bataille and the songs of Amy Winehouse.

We learn that raccoons "are helpers, ideal hosts to viruses from one species (birds), which mutate into viruses from other species (mammals)." The scientific observation is a neat encapsulation of Hausner's method.

Enter the Raccoon bridges the gulf between the Canadian traditions of relatively realist, pornographically enraptured novels of nature (notably, Marian Engel's Bear) and experimental, non-realist poetry. Entering Enter the Raccoon will unnerve and delight, so that the reader exits disturbed but gleeful.

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In Natural Capital (Mansfield, 64 pages, $17), Kingston's Jason Heroux continues to develop his bold style through the delightful fusion of otherwise jarring images. In Heroux's acrobatic jugglings, "wind chimes are a gentle alarm / warning everyone that nothing is wrong."

Many of Heroux's poems present miniature narratives through surrealistic matings. In one poem, Heroux imagines a strange locale that could be either "a hospital or a coffee shop." The pairing seems gimmicky on the surface, but Heroux manages to make the conflation engage the emotions, while retaining its black, comedic edge.

"All the linen tablecloths // were stained with blood, / coffee, and dried-up tears. / The waitress was dressed // like a nurse. She brought us / two cappuccinos and said / we didn't have long to live."

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Toronto's Gillian Savigny's debut collection, Notebook M (Insomniac, 96 pages, $17), is inspired by the Notebook M of Charles Darwin (in which he pondered numerous unscientific things). Savigny begins the book with a series of verses plundered from the writings of Darwin, isolating particular words from the page to reveal hidden poems. At their best, these dissections of Darwin's prose draw out poetry as dark as "the stomachs of / scorpions."

Savigny also offers a delightful suite of poems treating different typefaces (fonts) as if they were different types of organisms. Savigny's more conventional poems are best read as if written from Darwin's perspective: "We are supposed to remember that life is emptiness-- / that we should hold our hearts up to God. / But my mind gets so full I forget."

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Born in Saskatoon and raised in Winnipeg, Vancouver-based Rhea Tregebov begins her seventh collection, All Souls' (Signal, 78 pages, $18) with a poem in which "You thought all the poems had grown up / and left home. You didn't expect to find one / putting its little hands on your face." A fine, fitting metaphor for the moment of poetic inspiration, which is notoriously difficult to place into words.

Tregebov makes nice use of simple poetic tricks, like breaking the sentence "We're eating at the fanciest restaurant anyone can imagine" before the concluding and deflating "in Winnipeg."

In Safe as Houses: Subprime" the title comparison has been undercut by the poem's ending: "What's safe now. / People are losing their homes."

Tregebov takes few formal risks, but manages her language well enough to invigorate even a landscape poem, with dull gulls that "condescend from the sky."

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) recently published The Politics of Knives (Coach House Books).


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 J9

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