Dear Birch, by Margaret Christakos (Palimpsest, 80 pages, $20), offers poems meditating on the poet’s place in the world (specifically, how she sits under a birch tree), her bisexuality, a break up and the anniversary of her mother’s death.
The book reviews itself: "Her diaristic prose / handles grammar as if it is a set // of nets allowing the ping-pong sponginess of many / small balls to ricochet within its open fretwork // of containment — at any moment one of the / balls might erupt out of bounds & break // the arc of all of them."
Christakos has developed steadily and complexly over the years, and this set of long poems finds her in fine form. "Years ago she would have written ten or // twelve pages all about her feelings. Now she / can only write when her feelings are dispensed // with."
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Lens Flare, by Derek Beaulieu and Rhys Farrell (Guillemot, 56 pages, $18), takes the full text of Beaulieu’s 2019 book of visual poems, Aperture, and has Farrell manipulate and obscure them using strange landscape-like shapes exploding with bright colours.
The collaboration builds on what Aperture already did, which is mix the handmade artwork of Letraset with the digital manipulations of computer art. The resulting visual poems move even further away from the already fractured realm of the unsayable, so that each page becomes a strange and beautiful mishmash.
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The Junta of Happenstance, by Tolu Oloruntoba (Palimpsest, 104 pages, $20), is the poet’s first full-length book and showcases great dexterity, diversity and control.
"Everyone saucered tears / like firetrucks before a plane crash, / as if preparing, should we combust." Note the wonderful way Oloruntoba transforms the noun "saucer" into a verb to set the metaphor’s scene here and extend the image out in a complicated but vibrant manner.
In another poem, the speaker offers another fine example of the poet’s imagistic power: "I pull my broadsword umbrella / from its sleeve / and charge through the acid rain."
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Lurch, by Don McKay (McClelland & Stewart, 80 pages, $20), sees the Griffin Prize-winner settling further into his signature style.
At their best, McKay’s poems crackle with life as the language slithers. Read the following aloud to see for yourself: "It seems the sleeves / of the sea are neither empty nor / indentured." In another example, note how the cadence of these lines mimics the outflowing and inflowing of the very waves they discuss: "The waves exhaust themselves / on the beach and the water seethes back."
McKay also has a penchant for pretension, almost always coupled with his discussion of music and attempts to align artificial sounds with natural sounds, which usually undercut the point he is trying to make. Nevertheless, McKay has otherwise mastered odes to the Canadian landscape, and Lurch is a must for fans of the genre.
Jonathan Ball won a Manitoba Book Award for his short story collection The Lightning of Possible Storms (Book*hug, 2020). Visit him online atjonathanball.com.