Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Poetry: Sound play, imagery clash in fearless collection

  • Print

In an age of assured debuts, Brecken Hancock's Broom Broom (Coach House, 72 pages, $18) might be the most bold. Reading like a visceral assault on now-clichés of feminist poetry, Hancock's lines tilt domestic stereotypes into nightmare.

A long prose poem about the art of plumbing spans 6,600 years and transforms a simple household fixture (the bathtub) into something resembling a sarcophagus for humanity. Another poem offers "Evil Brecken," her "Lover, lecher, what beckons -- your bestie."

The subtlety of the sound play in that line contrasts with the bombastic imagery elsewhere, in poems replete with "Castles of albino crows" and "Snow madonnas maquillaged in ash." Inventive and fearless, Hancock sweeps the mild under her rug.

***

Reading Catherine Owen's Designated Mourner (ECW, 112 pages, $19) is uncomfortable and feels wrong. Owen's elegies for a deceased spouse, are discomforting in the truest sense.

This raw emotion is doubly impressive due to the actual polish of the poems. Owen oscillates between simple, stark expressiveness ("We were so perfect / at the Safeway") and ornate imagery ("the dead have entered me and suddenly I am many crows / in one crow, feasting on the beautiful dropped prey of this hawk-life").

"I want to stop writing poems for you now," writes Owen, and the collection thus comes to operate like the designated mourner of its title, continuing to cry after it closes.

***

Nikki Reimer's Downverse (Talonbooks, 118 pages, $17), by comparison, has lost its faith in the power of poetry to express any emotion without commodifying it. One of Reimer's most affecting poems is, oddly, a list of "insurance outcomes:" "Life / The Principal Sum / Both Hands / The Principal Sum / ... / Entire Sight of One Eye / Two-Thirds of the Principal Sum."

In this way, life and limb are literally valued. Another poem sees Reimer expressing herself as we all do, through her monthly budget (she spends four per cent of her income on books and 0.3 per cent on the aforementioned life insurance policy). However cold such "expressions" feel, they are in fact as raw (in their way) as any properly "poetic" emotion, more indicative of the poet's real concerns.

Reimer crashes different registers of found text against one another for startling, humorous effects. One poem juxtaposes that "perhaps what al-Qaida really needed was a fresh start under a new name" with "no matter what his name, or whether he is a stray, the street-savvy dog has captured the public's imagination."

Soon the poem announces that "we are focusing more on education when responding to chicken complaints" -- whether silly, wry, or deadpan, Reimer plays black comedy off against an anguished frustration.

***

"I understand what this sentence is trying to say / I empathize with each of its letters" writes Gary Barwin in Moon Baboon Canoe (Mansfield, 88 pages, $17). In contrast to the skepticism of post-avant poets like Reimer, Barwin's poetry expresses a near-religious faith in poetry's transcendence, its ability to forge meaning rather than simply convert meaning into money.

Barwin is one of Canada's best talents when it comes to soft, dense, delightful imagery. Not content to merely craft spry, inventive lines, he also takes time to untangle Canadian politics: "inside Stephen Harper / there's a little dog // inside the dog / another dog // inside this dog / it's Stephen Harper."

The image gets twist-ier, but rest assured that "it's Stephen Harper / all the way down."

 

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 June 28, 2014 G8

History

Updated on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 8:17 AM CDT: Formatting, adds book jacket.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Interview with Bobbi Ethier of Wasylycia-Leis campaign

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Has the attack on Parliament hill shaken your faith in Canada's ability to protect its citizens from terrorist threats?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google