Steudel deftly blends avant-garde, tradition

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VANCOUVERITE Susan Steudel's debut collection, New Theatre (Coach House, 96 pages, $18), displays remarkable range. From list poems cataloguing and translating sounds to acrostics about Lenin, Steudel deftly blends avant-garde techniques and more traditional approaches.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2012 (3867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVERITE Susan Steudel’s debut collection, New Theatre (Coach House, 96 pages, $18), displays remarkable range. From list poems cataloguing and translating sounds to acrostics about Lenin, Steudel deftly blends avant-garde techniques and more traditional approaches.

At times plainspoken and minimalist, as in Moscow 1918 (“Winter dragged. / People wondered would it / end”) and at other times lyrical (“I feel a door inside me”), the poems shift between styles while the book itself unfolds a consistent vision.

Even within poems, Steudel makes confident juxtapositions: ” ‘organization of professional revolutionaries,’ / this one thought like circling wolves.” Elsewhere, Steudel is less political and more philosophic: “A lie pulls a scarf from my mouth. / It has never been proven that such a world exists.” Such a world is our world, of course, and though it may not exist, at least it contains this book for consolation.

— — —

Toronto author Alex Boyd’s second collection, The Least Important Man (Biblioasis, 64 pages, $18), is less diverse, but consistently strong.

Boyd’s image and metaphors are deft, as when “in offices everywhere, the public signs the world / into existence” with “Signatures that look like a mailbox, / a bullwhip.” Even Boyd’s missteps keep him near the path: when he writes of “the most dazzelous woman you’d ever seen,” the word he coins is awkward and uninspired but still conveys some sense of dizziness in the face of beauty.

Boyd is best when his descriptions hold more social, political or emotional depth, as when noting “I see a man caught in the eye of a camera. / He watches himself on TV, raises an arm, / at last reflected in the face that means so much.”

Elsewhere, a poems’ speaker imagines a reunion with his father, both reincarnated as birch trees: “No more distances, I want / many long thin fingers in winter, holding his.”

— — —

Victoria’s Tim Lilburn imagines “a Western Canada that could have been” in Assiniboia (McClelland & Stewart, 104 pages, $19). Lilburn’s work delights in ornate imagery with a musical lilt: “Now rain bloom bear-sways up / The blade of the north hump.”

At times, he tips over into awkward theory-speak — “The milkweed holds still, holds still / for the eschatologically optimistic hermeneutic of milkweed”–but in the title poem, these shifts of register are motivated by the voices of different characters, so can work.

— — —

St. John’s, N.B., author Don McKay, in Paradoxides (McClelland & Stewart, 96 pages, $19), could stand to take some of Lilburn’s risks. Although McKay isn’t making a serious philosophical point with “All praise to the geese / in their goosiness, to the ragged arrow that is / and isn’t eros,” the pretense can flirt with pretentiousness.

In other moments, as when considering the world Forlorn — and noting that “It’s never like the bell / that tolled Keats back to life the night / he nearly OD’ed on The Nightingale” — McKay successfully navigates these tricky waters.

McKay is best when his language settles into exciting, glottal rhythms and he opts for surprising images: “Now the rocks / rub raw the bone. Gravel, / scree. Who will name / the dark’s own instrument? Riprap, / slag. Music / tearing itself apart.” Although the insertion of “the dark’s own instrument” is awkward and unnecessary, the remainder displays raw, visceral energy.

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball’s most recent book is Clockfire, poems about plays that are impossible to produce.

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