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This article was published 23/7/2016 (242 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kim Fu’s How Festive the Ambulance (Nightwood, 96 pages, $19) follows her award-winning debut novel, For Today I Am a Boy. Whether crafting prose poems about the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker or noting, "Winnipeg has the highest density / of mosquitoes per square mile / on earth," the Vancouver-born, Seattle-based Fu’s lines crackle with confidence.
Fu’s title image — "How festive the ambulance looks / studded with jewel-coloured lights" — gives a good sense of her general approach. Almost bemused, somewhat sardonic but still quite sincere, she keeps poking at the darkness like you’d tongue a hurt tooth.
Fu has a penchant for dark and startling imagery: "The tree lies on the crushed house / looking startled, a man who wakes up / in a heap of alley trashbags, kidneys gone." She’s at her best in these moments, clear and calm in the face of the world’s terror.
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Mark Sampson’s Weathervane (Palimpsest, 80 pages, $19) is the debut collection from the Toronto-based novelist and short-story author. Sampson balances dense metaphor with straight-forward language: "The rain makes generous donations / in the scooter women’s hats. / This neighbourhood has had sirens / every night for forty nights." Here, the biblical allusion suggests continual torment, which might be aided by donations or against which they don’t matter.
Sampson tackles subjects as diverse as Korean pornography and Sarah Palin, although his best moments arise from everyday epiphanies: "I cried the day the science teacher said / nothing could be created or destroyed." The poem serves both to refute this principle (as a created thing) and as its proof (in its failure, ending with an apology). A taut, confident debut from an already accomplished author.
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Steven Heighton’s The Waking Comes Late (Anansi, 86 pages, $20) winds loose but deft translations together with original poems by the bestselling author. His best moments pack an image with conceptual force: "As you’ve wasted / your life here, in this small corner, you’ve destroyed it/ everywhere else in the world." Here the clichés mirror the method of wasting life while building to meditate on the multiple selves one murders during the day’s choices.
Heighton’s style is dense and shifts shapes: "I was born / with a mortgage, now show me the house, the home, / slip me the dose that’ll make me care less." The same poem moves from this sad, wry, depressive mode into strange, manufactured optimism: "It was hard having so little skin-to-skin / with the world — but look on my works!" Here, he channels Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous Ozymandias (in that poem, which feels unknown to the speaker in Heighton’s poem, what the braggart has accomplished in life faded to nothing).
Heighton’s powerful, tough poems combine world-weariness with erudite humour.
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The title of Susan Holbrook’s Throaty Wipes (Coach House, 80 pages, $19) is an anagram of the phrase "What is poetry?" Holbrook offers her book as the modest answer to this age-old question, to clear the way for more important questions, like "Are you someone’s very / personal pizza?"
Holbrook excels at startling and fun juxtapositions, best displayed in a suite of poems where she appears to have shredded and then taped together and transcribed various documents: a Superman toy collectible crashes into a medical birth report in an oddly affecting way.
"Why did you choose to read / this poem? Did the poem help you / meet those investment objectives?" Let’s hope — buy some Holbrook stock and watch it rise as she offers odes to Leonard Nimoy and ponders the inescapable nightmare of Disney princesses.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he helps ambitious writers develop and sustain creative careers.