Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/1/2011 (3730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A first book of poems is like fresh tracks in a snowy field: at times sure-footed, at others hesitant, yet all the while weighted in the desire to get somewhere.
Below are four debut collections, all, coincidentally, from writers living in British Columbia.
Bren Simmers writes from various points of isolation in Night Gears (Wolsak and Wynn, 79 pages, $17). From small towns and northern road trips, to the workaday world and a weather observation tower, Simmers looks for both disaster and devotion in the high beams of her wide poetic gaze: "Against all sense, I hunger for / contact, for the cloud's shutter to snap, a bolt to swivel, split / a nearby tree in half."
Most notable is Simmers' panoramic movement inside the serial poem, where she finds both the stride and space to wander in her surroundings. At times she takes in more than might be necessary, but it is clear Simmers is at the service of desire, which at every turn finds poems flashing before her: "Slowing down to catch / something hightail it into the brush-- / into what lies beyond / our lives' scenic corridors."
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Sheryda Warrener offers an antidote to ordinariness in Hard Feelings (Snare Books, 68 pages, $12).
Warrener's idiosyncratic subjects find a formal counterpoint in her prose-poem style. Her bright, quirky anecdotes of diving horses, glass eyes, taxidermy and yaks express the "ordinary and remarkable" instances in our lives.
Exceptionally astute is Warrener's lyrical "mother/father" sequence at the tender centre of the collection. Here, Warrener's recurring theme of loneliness is played back and forth in poems that witness a parental divide: "When he's silent even the geraniums on the front porch shut their red hearts closed. // When she's silent, it's like I'm searching blindly under a dresser when my hand suddenly tricks the hatch of a dusty mousetrap."
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Nikki Reimer's riotous word play in [sic] (Frontenac House, 94 pages, $16) is a playful yet fierce polemic against the gentrified, branded, low-committal, icing-sugared, consumer-driven suburban manifesto.
Reimer's linguistically savvy "subverbia" cleverly, and often graphically, witnesses the "passed tents" of gentrification and the disenfranchisement of the female body: "if we put a pussy on the other side of the nickel i think kids / would really start to understand the value of a dollar."
Though at times a detriment to the inventiveness at hand, Reimer's syntactical distortions are undeniably fresh and boundless as she sets out into the "gendered landscape spread out" before her: "every minute is like the first minute of my life. A collaborative project with no end in sight."
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Anna Swanson approaches illness, isolation and sexuality in The Nights Also (Tightrope Books, 93 pages, $15).
Whether reclaiming a relationship with her body (as in the comical Loose Woman and Armpit Poem) or negotiating insomnia through a "mattress made of tired frogs," Swanson stalks the night with one hand searching for the light switch and the other poised and ready for the stark image it might catch.
One of Swanson's challenges is to give identity and form to a sleepless haze of unexplained illness. As a result, her poems are most accomplished when confined by a convention, as in the lovely Sestina for my name: "I was sick for six years and can't tell you what I learnt. I avoided introductions / because I had nothing to say. But there was something underneath even Anna which never disappeared. I may never have a word for it."
Winnipeg poet Jennifer Still's second collection, Girlwood, will make tracks in the spring from Brick Books.