Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

POETRY: Canadian expat Carson back on familiar terrain

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Canada's Anne Carson, now expatriate in Ann Arbor, Mich., returns to familiar terrain with Red Doc> (McClelland & Stewart, 160 pages, $25), her much-anticipated sequel to her 1998 verse-novel Autobiography of Red. Geryon, a red-winged figure from Greek mythology, has grown up in the modern age and into manhood's romantic entanglements, here involving a war veteran named Sad But Great.

This summary does little to hint at the story, which lacks detail or importance anyway -- the focus, as always with Carson, is on the embellishments of her language. Red Doc> finds her in high lyrical spirits, although at her best when most straightforward: either playful ("when the bats depart / Batcatraz is time to go") or mournful ("soon enough you'd be / stomping infant skulls and / see the sport of it").

A scene/poem from an imaginary play within the novel-in-verse offers the most moving moment: the character of Prometheus explains how he "went a bit too far" in his philanthropy by stopping humans from "seeing death before them," planting "blind hope in their hearts." The simple, sad response of the play's chorus to this news captures Carson at her melancholic best: "you fool."

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Kit Dobson has edited a strong selection of Derek Beaulieu's poetry in Please, No More Poetry (Wilfrid Laurier, 80 pages, $17). Calgary's Beaulieu is one of the country's most accomplished experimental poets, with five books of poetry, three books of conceptual fiction, and over 150 chapbooks to his credit.

Dobson's introduction and Lori Emerson's interview with Beaulieu bookend the selected works, adding some context for what might otherwise strike many readers as an alien approach.

Beaulieu's most celebrated work is in the field of concrete poetry, which uses language more as a visual material than for its sound or meaning. Dobson's selection showcases this aspect of Beaulieu's work, while also including some of his relatively more traditional writings.

A solid cross-section that serves as a strong introduction to the poet's writings, as well as to concrete poetry generally (given the diversity of Beaulieu's work), the volume will handsomely reward readers seeking to broaden their conceptions of what poetry could be.

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Beaulieu has been up to his own editing work, and his re-publication of bill bissett's Rush (BookThug, 130 pages, $20), co-edited with Gregory Betts, returns to print a seminal work of poetry and theory, out of print since its original 1972 publication. The reissue includes an interview with Toronto's bissett, an afterword by Beaulieu and Betts, and bissett's lost essay-in-verse "a study uv langwage what can yew study."

Rush remains an exhilarating, hybrid work of poetry, essay, and visual art, pushing against literary conventions and their restrictions, including the strictures of spelling and grammar. "when yu want to know what writing is mor than anything yu look / at writing," writes bissett, and Rush still has plenty to show us.

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Toronto's Mathew Henderson presents a powerful debut in The Lease (Coach House, 72 pages, $18). Henderson's poetry grows from his experiences working in the Saskatchewan and Alberta oil fields, and presents a stark take on how this economic driver offers intense environmental, social and personal costs.

"There is earth below your earth, a deep room where / gas and oil, rock and stone, circulate like slow blood / through a body" -- poisoning that body and its soul. "[I]f you're better than this place / then why is this place so hard," Henderson asks himself, and his grasping attempts to answer strike a desperate note that resonates throughout these visceral, affecting poems.

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) recently published The Politics of Knives (Coach House Books), which is nominated for this year's Aqua Books Lansdowne poetry prize at the Manitoba Book Awards.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 J9

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