Ken Hunt’s The Odyssey (Book*hug, 310 pages, $20) erases and manipulates transmissions from the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, "to find the poetry embedded in the combined code phrases, offhand remarks and technical jargon spoken by astronauts... on their pioneering voyage to the moon."
The resulting pages "portray Apollo (god of both sun and poetry) and Luna (goddess of the moon) as allied alien deities who consume interstellar conquerors whose voyages favour dominance over discovery." In this way, Hunt’s poems "read / the / moon to / us."
A counterpart of sorts to his earlier book, The Lost Cosmonauts, which mourned space travel’s dead, The Odyssey cleverly develops Hunt’s cosmic obsessions. Hunt is speedily producing one of Canada’s most singular and intriguing bodies of work, and The Odyssey is an erasure epic.
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Cam Scott’s Romans/Snowmare (ARP, 104 pages, $17) finds the local "non-musician" (formerly of various bands, including hardcore group Under Pressure) drawing heavily on the influence of the Kootenay School of Writing, a group of historically important experimental poets whose most accomplished (but least well-known) member is the local poet Colin Smith).
Scott’s book offers "anti-capitalist (and) homoerotic reinvention of the prairie long poem." A dense and complicated volume, filled with brilliant lines, Scott’s debut is impressively accomplished.
"If you’ve got beef, milk it / to stringency," Scott offers at one point. The line seems like a silly, throwaway joke but offers a surreal paradox, a critique of narcissistic posturing, advice to rap stars, and many other meanings all at once.
Biting and brilliant brutalist jokes fill this dark, deranged debut. Scott launches Romans/Snowmare on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Plug In ICA (460 Portage Ave.), accompanied by fellow poet Colin Smith.
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Billy-Ray Belcourt’s NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field (Anansi, 98 pages, $20) follows his Griffin Poetry Prize-winning debut and knows it: one poem opens with "Loneliness finds me drunk / in an old Billy-Ray Belcourt poem."
The nod to himself is as ridiculous as it is ponderous, and the book revels in racing between registers, jumping from a casual, offhand tone to academic theory speak to silliness to savage anger in a heartbeat.
"I bottle up my feelings. In my serrated hands, / the bottle shatters and still I am not free." Notice the deft alteration of the image from line to line, and also the beautifully dark surrealism of "serrated hands" (which would also, according to the image’s logic, harm the bottle they hold).
Belcourt has a real control in these seemingly loose poems, and offers up an impressive followup to his first book — a collection with more ambition, more density and more fun.
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Armand Garnet Ruffo’s Treaty # (Buckrider, 100 pages, $18) meditates on the concepts that underpinned the notion of a treaty, how this intersects with their brutal historical reality and poetry’s place in all this.
On one hand, poetry offers Ruffo and others a site of resistance, a place to speak from, while on the other hand poetry has historically harmed and marginalized these same voices.
Witness Duncan Campbell Scott, who helped found both Canadian literature and the residential school system. His poetry about the continent’s Indigenous populations helped fashion a stereotype and influence public policy and attitudes that persist to this day.
At the same time, poetry and literature has helped Ruffo jump class: "There was a time // when I would have stoked a wood stove, stuffed out wind / from boxcar walls … // I see ghosts of family through the curtains smiling / at me … / … they are speaking / to me in a language I don’t understand."
A sad, angry, brilliant and beautiful book.
To celebrate a decade as a publishing author, Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is available for free at jonathanball.com/freebook.