Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Simpson's fragments of language rewarding

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"The poem trails the typing hand," begins Natalie Simpson's Thrum (Talonbooks, 116 pages, $17).  Later: "So I thought, why not, try writing. A head injury not with / standing." Simpson fractures apart the sort of poems one might expect, pecking out their shiniest shards.

As above, the result is a heady mix of the silly and profane: "tot fighting cancer is fact of fundraiser stop the quills another tot in turmoil mom hits cougar with cooler to save tot." Simpson tends to coil out the languages of public communication, whether casual or legalistic, to examine their absurdities ("How are my wife and I supposed to understand Elvish?") or even their accidental grace.

***

Angela Carr's Here in There (BookThug, 96 pages, $20) appears to tell a story about the narrating I, who then appears to be writing herself into Iris.

The poems often concern themselves with the moments between their own writing. The result is hypnotic, a text straining in directions that it never seems to go. A wonderful tension results, which imbues Carr's prose poems with great power. They come to seem like attempts to draw the body into the poem, a paying of attention to the processes (physical and mental) of attention itself.

"Iris blow-dries her hair. Forced hot air throws into relief the comb's monotony. I should leave out further details. We can be repeatedly described but never illustrated." In this way, through subtle shifts and progressions, Carr constructs a delicate tower of a book, one that sways and seems fragile but never topples.

***

Erina Harris's The Stag Head Spoke (Buckrider, 94 pages, $18) is a strange and powerful debut, a cryptic and mythic suite of poems resembling surreal theatre.

At her best, Harris offers scenes that would feel at home in a nightmare: "The stag head spoke: // 'This is a house. / It collects children. / In they ride. // Come in, come in,' The stag head spoke."

At the same time, Harris uses conventional forms and rhymes, although often twisted into almost unrecognizable forms. "Each night before sleep / brother and I keep // track, a list: each bird and beast / enlisted within families // lined up, and flapping page to page / display, and turning agelessly" -- note how many repetitions in sound and letter have been sprinkled in these three couplets.

Eclectic and ambitious, The Stag Head Spoke announces the arrival of an impressive talent.

***

Dani Couture's Yaw (Mansfield, 64 pages, $17) is short but expansive, sharp and honed. In Fact Check, Couture employs a poetic list -- usually these produce boring, pretentious poems, but she pulls an implied narrative forward through journalistic questions ("did he call from a pay phone in London? / did he say it was all your fault?") towards a deafening conclusion ("do the dead walk in your dreams? / do they still call you? / do the dead still call you?").

Couture has also mastered the art of making late, whip-quick shifts in the poem's direction: "Minnow showers dart -- Perseid / streaks of shine. A tender soft underbelly flash. / One day it will be as if you were never here at all."

The resulting collection startles, stabs and demands attention. Yaw confirms Couture's impressive range and cold command.

 

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 G6

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Updated on Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM CDT: Formatting.

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