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POETRY: Dowling puts meaning to test in new collection

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Pennsylvania poet Sarah Dowling stands guard with language in her brave new collection, winner of the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2009 (4811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Pennsylvania poet Sarah Dowling stands guard with language in her brave new collection, winner of the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

security posture (Snare Books, 63 pages, $12) offers an elegant and acutely vigilant stance against the act of violation.

Dowling’s painfully precise poems work inside the hairline fissures of language: "the narrow movement / w i / thin a memory."

Word by word, letter by letter, comma by comma, she puts meaning to the test through the attentive pose and repose of words. And these poems are sharpened by the threat, finding their edge in Dowling’s wondrously oblique navigation of the unsayable "this," which she will "never be able to narrate."

Braced with silences, broken thoughts, stray letters, abandoned words, displaced punctuation — the cut of a comma placed on an empty line — security posture finds the possibility of redemption and healing in Dowling’s linguistic armour.

***

Montrealer Kate Hall takes on reality in her debut collection, The Certainty Dream (Coach House, 79 pages, $17), a whimsical and enlightening riff on the philosophic nature of knowing.

Hall is a poetic ventriloquist, reaching into reality’s hollows to puppeteer a dream she is waking inside of: "Sometimes I get the urge to scream warnings / at the fish as I reel them in."

Hall’s imagination liberates language and subject at every blink. A tongue, tucked into a crow tucked into another bird, speaks. A blackbird is both the vastness of the sea and an unfinished basement. Nouns shift to verbs and "cranberries" are a state of mind.

Hall’s poems scale the world to fascinating dream proportions: "The pear orchard yields beautiful / bottles. But we’ve forgotten to / account for wind. In a storm / the glass breaks. Around the tree, / there’s a ring of shards / we can’t cross over."

***

Victoria poet Heather McHugh tends to the critical condition of the world with potent humour in her eighth collection, Upgraded to Serious (Anansi Press, 82 pages, $19).

McHugh has tremendous fun with sound and vocabulary in this rhyme-driven collection. Pairings such as "gulpable semblable," "sentience / séance," and "suburb-reverb" offer a linguistic swab to the macabre states of her wounded subjects.

McHugh hands nothing over simply. Riddles, puns, rhymes and soundplays create complex poem-puzzles. Not for the dozy!

***

Writer/musician John Lent of Vernon, B.C., sings an honest, down-home ballad to the self in his eighth book, Cantilevered Songs (Thistledown Press, 69 pages, $17).

Lent’s poetry transcends "the usual stuff" of everyday life into epiphany. These highly musical, spacious poems (both in content and in form) consider the polyphony of self — at once reflective, relational, transformative and dreamed.

In Listening to Lightfoot on the Highway, Lent writes: "As I turn the key off in its / ignition sleeve I wonder what self / observes me in this instant, what music / surrounds me, some dark further grace / some song?"

This is a moving collection that plays the music of the ordinary and the particular — the dog walks and exam supervisions of the day.

It is here, in the present moment of life, that Lent sings out with a voice so refreshingly raw: "Why can’t I simply be this thing I have so carefully / concealed, the best part."

Jennifer Still is a poet living in Winnipeg.

 

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