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This article was published 25/11/2017 (749 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound Is a World (Frontenac House, 64 pages, $20) "is a book obsessed with the unbodied," but often expresses this obsession through attempts at sexual, bodily connection — especially concerning homosexual, Indigenous bodies that are thus doubly oppressed and repressed.
Belcourt couples a deep, despairing loneliness with funny, sad lines: "i want to visit every tim hortons in northern alberta / so that homophobes can tell me sad things like / i love you / your hair looks nice / you have nice cheekbones / until someone kills me."
Belcourt’s approach works gloriously in poems that struggle against how he wants to discuss his own body, but is trapped within a literary history of colonial discussion of Indigenous bodies in similar ways: "we are a people / who proliferate / only as potentiality. / do not compare us to the rain / unless you f—ing mean it." An affecting, darkly humorous, exceptional debut.
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Kathryn Mockler and David Poolman’s Some Theories (Some Theories Press, 50 pages, $10) offers prose poems and dialogues filled with stark, existential terror.
"People with children do not want to listen to your theories about the end of the world. Ghosts do not want to hear from the living." Mockler’s writing is set against drawings by Poolman: a man balancing a cinder block on his head; a dead duck; surrealistic juxtapositions of fish, balloons and shoes; and so on.
The result is a strange, unusual book, which casts out one dark concept after another, but still offers moments of humour. "Apparently no one wants a troublemaker. / Think about your bones. / Does the new earth have bananas and Evangelicals?"
Coupled with Poolman’s elegant, half-comic and half-horrific drawings, Mockler’s despairing poems mock their own despair.
Mockler and Poolman are unique talents with a startling voice.
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Jeramy Dodd’s Drakkar Noir (Coach House, 72 pages, $20) offers dense, intense, often grotesque poems filled with laugh-out-loud absurdities.
"You must not run with them, wolves / are like scalpels. The chief of all mall cops / is Santa. Santa Claws. When we eat a turkey / we also eat its shadow. Santa’s castle / is an orphanage for the aborted." These lines begin airy with joking wordplay, but then end in a stark, dark place, shadowed by death.
"There is a cancer for everything," Dodds writes in another poem. At once silly and severe, packing pop culture tight against pain.
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Liz Worth’s The Truth Is Told Better This Way (BookThug, 82 pages, $18) offers poems "speaking the silence / of the sick," taking drug-addled, pain-filled shades as their subjects more often than not.
"You want to know what we’ll be when / we get older. / I don’t believe we will get there. / ... / What does it mean to belong, / to be folded into someone else’s story. // I wait to find out." There’s a longing in these lines, for some calm, for solace.
This is the tension in so many of Worth’s poems: her speakers want to hold things they cannot, and are struck through with self-hatred for wanting these things.
"One day these poems will / tell of cabins and snow but / today I know only my own nature," Worth writes, and the razor-sharp poems are (as the lines suggest) a welcome corrective and contrast to the typical, stereotypical blandness of so much so-called modern poetry.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.