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POETRY: Peter Norman poems have stunning diversity of voice

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Toronto's Peter Norman has produced a second collection, Water Damage (Mansfield, 80 pages, $17), that rivals his first, the wonderful At the Gates of the Theme Park.

Too many poets present the same outlook in poem after poem -- by contrast, Norman's poems have a stunning diversity of voice, a flowering of personality.

In Underpass, Norman spins a strange, sad sort of scene as his speaker ponders graffiti: "A poorly rendered penis was right here. / A name of great illegibility. / A promise of unceasing love. / The blind will see, the crippled walk." Although the location has been rendered "poetic," a site where "I lost what husk was left of what I cared about," the speaker seems almost embarrassed of turning it into a poem.

Elsewhere, Norman pens odes to Staples and paeans to cellphone manufacturers ("Samsung, Samsung, second place / in market share. ... / sung is your glory, sung is your praise"). Norman's imagery crackles and his language feels biblical in its force, reporting humbly, sadly, that "In the days I was allotted, / coins of all denominations / dropped out of my pockets. / ... and not a single coin has fallen in."

-- -- --

Victoria's Marita Dachsel has chosen the many wives of the polygamous Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as her muses in Glossolalia (Anvil, 94 pages, $18).

Smith stands as the absent heart of the collection, defined as the hole left in its midst that the poems surround, but his numerous wives remain its focus.

Dachsel paints each poetic portrait with care, attempting to comprehend why they might have joined with Smith. The complex questions of what it means to be a wife, how it is possible for men and women to relate, and how dynamics of power affect and alter love and sex, are presented without clear answers. "My heart is rutted like the prairie after frost," reports one wife, and Dachsel's poems probe these ruts.

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Saskatoon's Jeanette Lynes found the inspiration for her latest collection in a stack of vintage Playboy magazines, and Archive of the Undressed (Wolsak and Wynn, 80 pages, $17) is a playful yet sometimes mournful thumbing through those stacks.

"We seek the vintage stars, headliners of last / century, mothers of the art, empresses of the stage," writes Lynes, who connects early Playboy to the art of burlesque performance, and uses the stage of her poems to mount a celebration of feminine power. In this smart and lively collection, "The poet, bare-armed, winks at the reader/ decked out, as always, in illusion fabric."

-- -- --

Vancouver's Amber Dawn combines poetry and personal essays about her days as a sex worker in How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir (Arsenal Pulp, 160 pages, $16). The title is misleading, since Dawn regards sex work as a misunderstood career, rather than something from which she required "saving." The book is less a "memoir" than a collection of disjointed writings, but does give a sense of Dawn's development from hustler to activist and artist.

Dawn's radical feminist politics demand that she neither glorify nor vilify sex work, although given its illicit and dangerous nature, she writes that "Survival may be the most radical thing I ever do."

For Dawn, poetry is akin to "a remarkable, shameless place" and part of "the labour of becoming whole," and although she sounds like an educational pamphlet at times, for the most part her lines spark with raw power.


Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) recently published The Politics of Knives (Coach House Books), now shortlisted for a Manitoba Book Award.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 J9

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