Inventions inspire stunning stanzas

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Anthony Etherin’s Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) (Penteract, 148 pages, $20) considers various historical inventions (ranging from agriculture to weapons to the piano, and so on) and meditates on these in poems constructed using rigid constraints.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/01/2020 (935 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Anthony Etherin’s Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) (Penteract, 148 pages, $20) considers various historical inventions (ranging from agriculture to weapons to the piano, and so on) and meditates on these in poems constructed using rigid constraints.

Many of the poems are anagrams (where lines contain exactly the same letters) or palindromes (which read the same backwards and forwards) of various types, and many aelindromes (a form invented by Etherin, which is too complicated to explain here).

In other words, these are incredibly dense poems, technically impressive wonders that are beautiful textual objects that engage in a complicated way with poetic tradition. “Voices range beyond the hills. / Birdsong echoes in the valley.”

The poems have flow rather than feeling forced — you might not recognize those lines as anagrams without being told — and often reflect on their own creation, as “Atoms erupt in / mutant prose.”

An impressive, masterful addition to an already-incredible body of work, Etherin’s Stray Arts (the title itself is a palindrome) is a necessary addition to the library of any lover of modern poetry.

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Ian Kinney’s Air Salt (University of Calgary Press, 122 pages, $19) attempts to “(un)write” through the process of his injury and recovery from a seven-storey fall, which occurred following ingestion of psychotropic mushrooms and was determined by police investigation to be a suicide attempt.

Due to brain trauma resulting in memory loss, Kinney himself relies on this police investigation and other written evidence (emails between friends, get-well-soon cards, excerpts from journals, eyewitness accounts, medical reports, and so on) to reconstruct both the event and the events that follow.

What results is a strange, poetic memoir constructed mostly through collaging together fragments of these written documents, a memoir where the memoirist’s own point of view on everything has been destroyed, lost or withheld, appearing mainly in the gaps between his arrangements of chosen material.

“Scatter sentences // this will help to reduce the swelling,” offers one page, while another wonders about how “It’s so easy to say something that you don’t mean / in text.” Kinney’s Air Salt is an often-harrowing blend between documentary and poetry that reworks a shattered history into a strange and startling long poem.

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Adèle Barclay’s Renaissance Normcore (Nightwood, 106 pages, $19) begins by asking, “Would you rather be the sun or the moon? / Would you rather sing like Jerry Lewis / or Fiona Apple?” Later, another poem asks, “when is karaoke intimacy and when is it power?”

Barclay’s poems swirl around such questions, interrogating the dynamics in play across our relationships with one another and the terrifying systems we relate inside. Dense, startling poems that twist knives through your flesh.

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Francine Cunningham’s on/me (Caitlin, 96 pages, $18) explores the poet’s experience struggling with identity issues as a white-passing Indigenous author who wonders, “what is my soul losing by not knowing cree?” while battling depressive episodes and a host of other challenges, including her mother’s death.

Although stark, the poems also display a wry sense of humour: “sometimes I get jealous when I listen to other people’s stories / of their traditional upbringing, but then i think, they never had kfc.” Engaging, expressive, and explosive poems.

Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and to celebrate it is free at www.jonathanball.com/freebook.

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