Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2020 (385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley’s The Muse Sings (At Bay, 154 pages, $25) takes the ancient Greek concept of the muse, a goddess who inspired poets and other artists, and filters it through a million metaphors in order to examine the nature of creativity.
Cooley’s muse sometimes drives a pickup truck, sometimes takes the form of a record player, sometimes instead of sending inspiration sends spam email or slides into his Facebook messages. He’s in fine form here, full of the acrobatic playfulness that has become his trademark. (Indeed, Cooley sometimes seems like the only author today who actually enjoys writing.)
In whatever form, Cooley’s muse is reluctant to offer much help to the wounded wordsmith: "you serve me ill madam / i do not deserve these passing shots / when you stand constant as Thor & as tough / at the net you have strung between us / and you keep lobbing grenades / i know i have been courting / disaster plain & simple."
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Ariel Gordon’s TreeTalk (At Bay, 84 pages, $20) springs from a Synonum Art Consultancy residency in which she spent two days at the Tallest Poppy hanging poems from a nearby elm tree and encouraging passersby to join her writing/art installation project. The book draws on this material and also features illustrations by Natalie Baird.
The best poems draw together these differing threads of inspiration by grounding us in the immediate scene, displaying how the elm stands (as do all things) at the nexus of many strange worlds. "His shirt open, a scar stands out on his belly, / showing the trajectory of a blade / as he bends to write: This bird can sing."
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Paul Vermeersch’s Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995-2020 (ECW, 230 pages, $30) reimagines the "Selected" in a bold manner.
Instead of arranging groups of poems chronologically, according to the collection from which they are pulled, they are instead arranging according to how they might have appeared in imaginary alternate-universe collections.
This allows Vermeersch to feature some of the dominant themes of his work rather than display his development. He also revises some of these poems and includes new work mixed in alongside of them. The result is a book that feels essential (rather than skippable, if you’re already steeped in Vermeersch).
The entire project is capped with a host of light verse from "the Lightverse," including a poem offering multiple choices for end lines and limericks about planetary death. An exceptional collection and a must-have for any seriously non-serious lover of poetry.
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Patrick Friesen’s Outlasting the Weather: Selected and New Poems 1994-2020 (Anvil, 238 pages, $20) more traditionally presents poems in the order they were originally published, to trace the latter part of this poet’s long career.
Over the years Friesen has become accomplished in crafting long lines that flow with a strange, dark effect, as if anchored against a sharp wind. The collection crosscuts between these poems and starker, more minimalist, short-lined poems, and even tips toward prose poetry by its end.
Throughout, Friesen displays a controlled chaos, imagistic and somber, sometimes bursting into flashes of lovely light.
Jonathan Ball’s short story book, The Lightning of Possible Storms, publishes this month.