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Everything gleams with possibility for Banff writer

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BANFF poet and performance artist Steven Ross Smith records an ecstatic alertness to the world in the latest instalment of his multi-book project Fluttertongue 5: Everything Appears to Shine with Mossy Splendour (Turnstone Press, 96 pages, $17).

Smith's 89 prose poems begin with phrases from American poet Elizabeth Willis, a fitting start for a book that at its core seeks connection.

For Smith, everything gleams with poetic possibility, from the mundane and comedic ("the return of big hair") to the lyrical sublime ("as a writer reaches for a pen a quiver unsettles his belly and seems, above it, to push tears from nowhere, to trickle over the lid and down his cheek").

Most exciting in this collection is the reappearance of Smith's inventive "through-line," in this case, a quiet, quirky meditation on moss that appears in faded grey font at the end of each poem, a surreptitious gesture to the undergrowth that resides beneath the book's more covert desires.

Language is illuminated in a spore-like fashion: poems grow within poems, words within words, and a new meaning takes hold.

-- -- --

In Cornelia Hoogland's fifth collection, Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 96 pages, $17), fable and fact, woodsman and wolf, and mother and daughter are hauntingly entangled in the retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale.

In this London, Ont., poet's work, myth and personal history are at times so snug it is no longer relevant to separate the two: "(I know this is a dream, / but whose dream?)" and later "Your tongue, Mother/my mouth."

Brilliant and stark, Hoogland's poems are an imagistic treat, green as tadpoles in a pickle jar, red as "rain the shade of lips by Chanel."

This is not a simple tale Hoogland tells. She heads to the darkest woods where the "rainforest slides down its zipper," the frog never becomes a prince and the wolf is both feared and desired. In Hoogland's forest, subservience and shame are a rite of passage: "We crave the thunderbolt, cosmic change."

-- -- --

On the cover of Sharon Thesen's newest collection, a blurred image of yellow flowers parts to reveal a slender focus. Thus opens the clear-eyed lyrics of Oyama Pink Shale (Anansi, $23, 64 pages), Thesen's stunning ninth collection in which myth and her home in B.C.'s lake country are manicured into a landscape of glistening attention.

From Dogfish Woman to Wonder Woman, Thesen's poems churn up the mythical within the common. Her remarkable sense of the odd finds symmetry in the grandest and most particular of moments: "Now I realize how hard it is to change / the habits of a lifetime. Like not / saying anything makes of my mouth / a line."

Many of the poems are written in sequential movements, unfolding into a language so contoured and absolute they beg to be tumbled around in the mouth: "the labret in her bottom lip eclipsing the sea."

-- -- --

As its title suggests, Nova Scotia poet Anne Simpson's latest work, Is (McClelland & Stewart, $19, 93 pages), peers through the smallest of forms to query the grandest of subjects: existence.

From the formation of a single cell to the final "ting of a fingernail," Simpson's poetic reach is wide, oftentimes cerebral. She works with space -- both on the page and as a conceit: "Through you, everything becomes known to itself."

There's a gentle tension at work between her playful openness in form and the dark often grief-stricken content. Simpson's long, fluid lines contain the highly imagistic details of life's inevitable endings. They move from open-endedness and potentiality to the finite nature of cells that "separate themselves, become a plot."

With exquisite imagery ("broken necklace of bees in curled, damp grass") and movement (as in the twirling-leaf DNA structure of Double-Helix), Is beautifully acknowledges the life inside loss: "The dead tell / tales / in the bodies / of the living."

Winnipeg poet Jennifer Still's latest collection, Girlwood, was released by Brick Books this spring.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2011 J9

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