Vancouver Island's Lorna Crozier, in The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things (Greystone, 132 pages, $20), presents prose meditations that respond poetically to household objects (plus a few other oddities, for example, various body parts and "The Midnight News").
The obvious point of comparison would seem to be Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein, except that Crozier sidesteps the comparison and asks us to consider her book as a world apart: "Tender in front of Buttons is something else."
Can we ignore the dominating shadow of an exceptional classic with the same basic concept? If we can, we find much to recommend Crozier's book, where astronauts find a chair when first landing on the moon, and hats have "driven species to near extinction."
Many of the entries read like miniature fictions, with protagonist objects. Stool, a highlight, finds our poor milking stool psychologically devastated when somehow "its name appeared in the dictionary as a synonym for excrement." A fun and fantastical work, if troublesome in theory.
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U.S. authors and identical twins Matthew and Michael Dickman pair up to present 50 American Plays (Copper Canyon, 78 pages, $16).
Through this collection of poetry (one poem per state, plus Guam and Puerto Rico) that doubles as a surrealist play, the Dickmans pervert both genres by playing havoc with theatrical and poetic conventions.
The poem Kenneth Koch Designs the Set for Hamlet in Minnesota best exemplifies the Dickmans' approach. "The knife buildings / And the knife curtains [...] Looking out with our knife eyes / At the knife night / Rising like a moon knife / Above the knife audience // Is my idea / My overall / Theme." A stunning blend of humour and horror, beautiful and brilliant.
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Nicole Markotic, of Windsor, Ont., demands that we "succumb to Winnipeg / suck on combs pegged to winter" in Bent at the Spine (BookThug, 144 pages, $20). However, her primary demand is to know "where's the body now?" in poetry. Markotic bends language at the spine, to its breaking point: "eliminate the alternative in / the centre of the word word" she writes, drawing our attention to the "or" in "word" -- that word's own bendable spine.
Markotic makes what could be a stuffy conceit fun, acknowledging that "even I have trouble with book-learning applied to / werewolf law." Don't we all! The final sequence, which pays homage to various poets, seems disconnected from the rest. However, this section does contain a wonderful, pitch-perfect parody of Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley.
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Toronto's Liz Worth, poet and punk-rock historian, presents stark, tangled images throughout Amphetamine Heart (Guernica, 60 pages, $15). In lines like "Our free association / hunting party / comes dressed in lipstick shades named / for the colours of abuse," Worth builds an image with each line feeding into the next, both invoking and displaying the "free association" process.
The poems, in this sense, operate as a manual for writing dark, visceral poetry. "The body's in bruises, a reflection that's eaten / till there's nothing but ribbons on the floor": how to rebuild such a body without poetic suture? "I've been licking knives," writes Worth in another poem, and her bleeding tongue drips patterns on the page.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) just published The Politics of Knives (Coach House Books).