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This article was published 25/6/2016 (722 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The title of Helen Hajnoczky’s Magyarázni (Coach House, 106 pages, $19) translates literally as "make it Hungarian" (although more normally as "to explain") and Hajnoczky pairs visual poems inspired by folk art with a poem connected to one of the letters of the Hungarian alphabet.
"You want a sharp consonant, / an axe of a word to split myths, / to cleave false memories" states one poem, in wordplay where the middle line mimics an axe’s rise and fall. The book explores the immigrant experience from a certain distance — how the children of refugees are torn in a sense between history and home: "Every happiness you have / is an accident of war."
Hajnoczky is one of the country’s most impressive young writers, with astounding range and a sharp, controlled technique.
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Stuart Ross’s A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn/Buckrider, 68 pages, $18) captures one of Canada’s most inventive and overlooked poets in fine form. "This is a poem about Johnny Cash / as the line above this one clearly states" — this fun, plain-spoken assertion seems to set the stage for a silly poem, but actually presages a crushing, sad scene.
This is Ross’s oft-utilized but never-predictable method: to combine an observation that seems tossed-off and un-poetic with a harrowing image or something more complex than it at first appears.
"The books are full of words / but what’s a word?"
"I wrote a poem. I was / lonely. I wrote a poem / describing how I was / lonely. Many a person / said I should write a book."
There’s a clever joke and an existential crisis both crushed into those clean lines. Ross wins again.
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Jason Heroux’s Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines (Mansfield, 104 pages, $17) is the fourth collection from another of Canada’s most inventive, overlooked poets (edited by Stuart Ross — coincidence?) and develops his soft surrealism beyond previous books: "The death factory makes all kinds of death, / a new model each year. You own an old death. / It doesn’t work properly. One day you’ll get another."
"I give / this life four stars," writes Heroux, a generous rating in a world where "we’ll never cure cancer / unless Coca-Cola has cancer." That observation collapses everything wrong with contemporary capitalist society into a dark joke. Heroux’s bold style continues to develop, mushroom-blooming in the CanLit darkness.
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Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pages, $14) is a book-length essay that examines the phenomenon of hating poetry, from the time of Plato to today.
"The hatred of poetry is internal to the art," argues Lerner, positing "the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure."
The failures of poetry are many, although its essential sin is falling short of what we wish a poem could be. Lerner believes throughout history there has been a gap between what poems actually are on the page and what poems are thought to be in their pure, perfect (and impossible) natures.
Hatred fills that gap.
"The fatal problem with poetry: poems. This helps explain why poets themselves celebrate poets who renounce writing."
Ultimately, Lerner loves poetry — as, so he claims, do the true poem-haters among us who desire for and strive to create poems that might realize poetry’s impossible demands.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.