February 22, 2020

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Cooley's latest musings magnificent

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2016 (1274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dennis Cooley’s departures (Turnstone, 160 pages, $17) considers mortality after a medical emergency, when the poet "can hear / the shadows outside / drop from the window / fall in knots."

Cooley’s meditations range from serious, sad tones to rapid-fire puns about farting. His poetic signature is an excessive outpouring of wordplay: "the wall calls clack / clock clack loud / & slow hour after / hour sour from not / moving he is home // sick for home at night."

A Winnipeg mainstay and legendary Prairie poet, Cooley’s work should be familiar to anyone reading this column — and departures finds him in fine form.

Cooley handles weighty issues with a light touch, making it look easy and fun even as he considers "cat as trophes / cast as tropes / the disasters of / our lives so little / consequence to the stars."

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François Turcot’s My Dinosaur (BookThug, 160 pages, $18), translated by Erin Mouré, also considers a specific form of mortality: the death of a father. The first of this Quebec poet’s books to appear in English, My Dinosaur offers a fragmentary elegy with "One memory chasing another, I was now left alone to go silent."

Turcot’s poems tend towards minimal, shattered moments, that hint at the emotion of an instant without fully unpacking it: "cramped kitchen / at sunset without spouses // stuck I’d be / the cupboard / no one opens again."

The poems sift through the clutter of memory to pick out strange, jagged forms, and examine them in moonlight. "I’d have felled / endless trees to obtain / more light" — the line suggests both desperation and longing, both of which simmer underneath these sizzling shards.

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Carmine Starnino’s Leviathan (Gaspereau, 80 pages, $19) also considers a father’s death, and through that, larger notions of fatherhood itself. Considering the gruff, reserved fathers of yesteryear against the doting, lawn-obsessed fathers of now, the poems struggle to square received notions of fatherhood against modern parental pressures.

Starnino excels at wordplay: "Surround-sound / roid-rage, a ramped-up me // on a rampage" — here the sound of the language mimics the rustling roar of the leaf blower that the poem discusses. Starnino has a strong ear for sound and can flit from a plain-spoken, humble style to more muscled, twisting lines with great ease.

Starnino’s best poems appear late in the book, where the speaker considers his own dying father after becoming a father himself, and seems to gain a new level of empathy, if not understanding, for his patriarch. "Beautiful, how water / glows in glass as dark draws closer. One way or another, we all fail each other."

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Derek Webster’s Mockingbird (Signal, 94 pages, $18) examines a death of another sort, with many of the poems tracing the aftermath of a failed marriage. Even vaguer poems that don’t seem to address this issue feel loaded against its backdrop: "Libraries burn. / What we thought would last is gone."

However, the best poems call up other poets — like the mockingbird of his title, Webster has an astounding facility for mimicry, even producing a pitch-perfect Emily Dickinson poem: "My life was mine — an uncut book — / Shelved until the day / A reader passed — and snagged — / And carried me away."

The poem Zombies feels like a poem by Rainier Maria Rilke, and ends "I’m a hawk in some old tapestry / eyeing the bodies below my tree."

"Outside the dream / someone knifes the dreamer," ends a poem called Ted Hughes — Webster’s debut offers an astounding range of poems and displays incredible skill.

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

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