Ordinary extraordinary in Patrick Warner poems

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NEWFOUNDLANDER Patrick Warner's third book, Mole (Anansi, 78 pages, $19), is a comically vulnerable, tender collection concerned with the re-emergence of self with careful attention paid to the bizarre.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/07/2009 (4942 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEWFOUNDLANDER Patrick Warner’s third book, Mole (Anansi, 78 pages, $19), is a comically vulnerable, tender collection concerned with the re-emergence of self with careful attention paid to the bizarre.

Whether the narrator is standing in line for the newest Nicole Kidman movie or lounging on a snowbird holiday, the ordinary becomes extraordinary when seen through Warner’s rose-coloured, resort-town lenses.

In Entertainment, a meditation on popcorn topping becomes a sexual odyssey into the poet’s fertile mind: “The line I was in was like a sleeve of cups. / I was like an empty white cardboard cup, / my mood as light as that funnel container / I would soon fill with effervescent desire.”

Endearingly childlike and whiskered in wildness, these are the verses of a tough-meat world that when set to Warner’s musical sensibility, emerge tender-nosed and curious.

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Moncton poet Serge Patrice Thibodeau sings a reflective and ethereal praise song to New Brunswick’s Petitcodiac River in One (Goose Lane Editions, 57 pages, $17), an English translation by Jo-Anne Elder of Thibodeau’s 2007 Governor-General’s Award-winning Seul on est.

Thibodeau’s meditative riverwalk reflects on the connection of landscape and spirit through the rhythmic phenomenon of the mascaret, or tidal bore, a single wave that travels against the current.

In One, the world sprouts from our gaze, skies root the earth, all is alive, connected in an “inexhaustible geography / a single being.”

In poems that consider the transformative power of how we see our landscape, Thibodeau invites us to join him in exalting gaze and “lose oneself” in our own wonder: “The ice flows upstream, against the current, / so it was written; our astonishment transforms gravity.

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New Brunswick poet James Langer’s debut, Gun Dogs (Anansi, 68 pages, $19), is a pristine, formally diverse collection.

From humorous re-enactments of guy rhetoric (see Half Full) and imaginative scenes of a drunken, beer-swigging loon, to the small and clever Life as a Nail and the narrative majesty of Gangrene, Langer rolls around in varying forms with playful assurance.

He also knows grief and writes a tormented dance in Terminal Velocity: “the safest place / is always the place / where things can’t get any worse.”

However, for all Langer’s technical savvy, including his exquisitely musical ear, Gun Dogs plays a disappointingly safe emotional turf. In poems that are as diligent as gun dogs “always willing / to start over, go further than need,” there is often a sense of strain or restraint in voice, as if the poems are still hunting, looking “to close the distance” on what it is they really want to say.

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Winnipeg can add Gillian Sze to its roster of literary talent. Now living in Toronto, Sze writes of wandering and lostness in her debut collection, Fish Bones (DC Books, 65 pages, $17).

Loosely conceived in the ekphrastic tradition (a poetic response to visual art), Sze gives imaginative voice to paintings, sculptures and photographs in her search for a sense of place.

The poems on their own are evocative in voice and imagery. But the collection as a whole feels fragmented and removed from its original artistic encounter, reading more like a collection of writing assignments than a fully formed, layered body of work.

This is not to say Sze’s impulse is misdirected. A contagious lyrical energy ignites when concept gives way to necessity and her subjects — family, place, origin — are given voice.

In The Changes Between, Sze’s clear-eyed attention illuminates the sad and beautiful details of returning home: “I am thinking about lights while trying to forget / how I can’t remember my mother’s eyes.”

Jennifer Still writes poetry in Winnipeg.

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