My contribution to National Poetry Month is threefold: I wrote a sonnet about Leatherface, I wrote this column and I edited a portfolio of new Winnipeg poets for the online journal Lemon Hound.
Buy these books, buy more copies for your best friends and buy even more copies to show (then deny) your worst enemies. Then head over to www.LemonHound.com for your Winnipeg poetry fix.
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Kathryn Mockler’s The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield, 96 pages, $17) combines True Detective levels of despondence with the wry humour of a Wilde. If Rust Cohle published poetry, it would go a little something like this: "How old were you when you realized the world was a nightmare from which you could never wake?"
Presenting surreal, speculative worlds, the Toronto-based Mockler offers one brilliant, dark conceit after another. "I’m very good with death," proclaims one poem, while another counsels that "you will meet people in life with punchable faces Skyler is one of them." Mockler’s tone holds firm to its bleakness while cracking wise, having fun in the face of horror.
Remember, kids: "the English teacher is not a credible source because she wants to kill herself."
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Gregory Betts’ Boycott (Make Now, 142 pages, $18) considers the political and poetic efficacy of the boycott, capitalism’s answer to capitalism’s question: How can people protest the system they support, hiding the truth even from themselves?
"Giant, multinational corporations speak one language and one language only: money. Let’s speak their language by simply choosing to send our money elsewhere!" Where? To another giant, multinational corporation, of course. Speaking "their language" seems like the wrong tactic, but what is the right tactic?
Betts gathers a wealth of written material expressing (often bizarre) reasons to boycott, and the social function of boycotts: "I’m looking for a woman who cuts loose, / loves dogs, and hates the northwest territories."
Near the end, Betts offers a reason to boycott the book Boycott: "I boycott you because you are so ignorant that you are mixing art and politics together. Get a crash course on Art 101!" Ironically, Boycott operates like this very crash course, an "Art 101" that teaches you how art and politics not only mix, but cannot be held apart.
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Donato Mancini’s Loitersack (New Star, 142 pages, $21) uses poetry to forge poetic theory, offering the loitersack (16th-century slang for slackers) as a paradoxical paragon. Since "loitering can be thought of as producing motivated blockages in urban flows," it is potentially an anti-capitalist activity.
The problem of poetry’s complicity in the very economic structure that devalues poetry is a topic the Vancouver-based Mancini returns to continually, with verve: "Writing today is a perfectlittlehellride in a skullshape."
"Which would be worse / 1 - the end of the world / 2 - continuation of the world as is"? A question for politics, and a question of poets. Mancini spends much of the book asking questions (my favourite: "what do you / unjoy about writing"?)
Loitersack ultimately renders a review of this sort irrelevant, since our interactions with poetry hold less importance than the fact of interaction itself. "And here you are, Reader, enjoying culture."
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Madhur Anand’s A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland & Stewart, 102 pages, $19) enthralls, mining scientific research for precious poetic metals.
Often Anand, based in Guelph, Ont., excerpts phrases from research papers to craft surprisingly affective poems. Other poems, composed more conventionally, play with language and concepts from economics and mathematics. "Everywhere markets scream in sans serif" describes both the magazine The Economist and the Beijing airport, while other poems find "Monkeys and mycorrhizae playing / non-zero-sum games."
Anand’s impressive, engrossing debut indexes our modern catastrophes with scientific accuracy and poetic playfulness.
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Damian Rogers’s Dear Leader (Coach House, 88 pages, $18) contains an apocalyptic melancholia, sometimes played straight and sometimes for laughs. "Everything you’re afraid will happen already has," writes Rogers in the wryly titled Minor Regional Novel, while another poem invokes Shelley with an exhortation to "Look at your works, you asshole, and despair."
The Toronto-based Rogers has a knack for crushing complex concepts into deceptively clear images. "I find myself here at the close of the poem, alone / while her voice slips through the bars of this page" closes a poem about Robert Graves’s mythopoetic The White Goddess. The poem seems to serve as both a paean and critique, and yet is in no way weighted down by its esoteric subject.
Fierce intelligence, flowing elegance, and dark humour permeate this impressive sophomore collection.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.
Updated on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 7:59 AM CDT: Formatting.