Méira Cook's Monologue Dogs (Brick, 80 pages, $20) dives into the waters of folklore, with poems ranging from Bible tales to Greek legends to the Brothers Grimm.

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Méira Cook's Monologue Dogs (Brick, 80 pages, $20) dives into the waters of folklore, with poems ranging from Bible tales to Greek legends to the Brothers Grimm.

Winnipeg's Cook playfully marries myth and the modern. In one poem, a young Eve beds her beau in a pickup truck just off the highway.

Cook braids together dense, rich images. Young Eve also ponders a "Library of Imaginary Books" where "poems ripen, wet and lush, / as time-lapse fruit inside their husks."

Another poem describes the sky, elegantly, as a place "where nothing grows."

Cook plays with the monologue form throughout, her mythic speakers sparking to life to tell their dramatic tales in a charming, engaging, vivacious collection.

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Joanne Epp's Eigenheim (Turnstone, 110 pages, $17) is an assured debut, and its opening poems achieve a dreamy lightness that belies their craft and care.

The poems of Winnipeg's Epp have a relaxed pace and offer imagery as clear as glass; the night, for instance, is "a solid thing that would still let her fall," and "kids feel August stretching out."

Epp, an assistant church organist, manages a suite of strong poems about playing music -- an impressive feat given the difficulty of describing not only the sound but the sense of this activity. In one poem, playing piano becomes akin to "running downhill too fast / wind shoving at my back" -- an earlier line, almost like a prayer, says "Make the lightning come closer."

Eigenheim means "one's own home," and Epp certainly feels at home here in this impressive first book.

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Ben Ladouceur's Otter (Coach House, 80 pages, $18) joins a handful of excellent and explicit books that bring a gay male perspective to the poetry world (a similar standout that Otter sometimes recalls is Daniel Zomparelli's Davie Street Translations).

Ladouceur's poems are slick and inventive. There's a paradoxically thudding elegance to a line like "We wrote letters, until we didn't." He also shines in a more conventional poetic register, with an almost (and perhaps ironic) biblical tone: "When winter arrives / the mosquitoes will expire / and material will cover the bodies of men."

Otter is a startling debut and a dense, rewarding read.

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"Enough philosophy. Greatly / I have coffeed and greatly / misunderstood," writes Kayla Czaga in For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood, 96 pages, $19). Another strong debut filled with wonderful, sparkling gems (such as turning "coffee" into a verb), Czaga's book displays a remarkable confidence and range.

Czaga's most impressive poems are modelled on the work of Gertrude Stein, a mimicry many poets try (most fail). Czaga couples her Stein-esque lines with a feminist critique: "A girl never wants to woman. A girl is kicked / and killed in wild, howling womanhood. / [...] A girl turns another girl / womanish to stay small and wanted and win."

Most of Czaga's poems are more formally conservative but no less impressive. Highlights include an elegy for Victoria Soto, a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, and A Poem for Jeff listing all of the things in the world that are f--ked. Spoiler alert: Pretty much everything is f--ked -- except this book.

 

Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.

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