December 16, 2018

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Meditation probes happiness as a concept

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2016 (932 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Lori Cayer’s Dopamine Blunder (Tightrope, 80 pages, $20) considers happiness as a concept, as it appears through the lenses of various sociological and scientific disciplines, and how it relates to the personal and to poetry. Often this meditation probes happiness less than its lack: “disappointment is dirty and has so many rooms / I wipe one thing and another, but still it looks // like someone lives here.”

Cayer’s poems are fragmented and stark — an image from one poem, of a “headful of broken windows,” might usefully be misread to describe how the poems look and feel. Wary but wonderful, Cayer’s poems “count our ragged blessings relative to mass extinction.”

• • •

Kevin Spenst’s Ignite (Anvil, 96 pages, $18) concerns the poet’s father, former Winnipegger Abe Spenst, and how his mental illness (schizophrenia) affected their lives. Spenst’s poems range across an array of styles, from traditional forms such as sonnets to visual poems created by manipulating his father’s medical records.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2016 (932 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Lori Cayer’s Dopamine Blunder (Tightrope, 80 pages, $20) considers happiness as a concept, as it appears through the lenses of various sociological and scientific disciplines, and how it relates to the personal and to poetry. Often this meditation probes happiness less than its lack: "disappointment is dirty and has so many rooms / I wipe one thing and another, but still it looks // like someone lives here."

Cayer’s poems are fragmented and stark — an image from one poem, of a "headful of broken windows," might usefully be misread to describe how the poems look and feel. Wary but wonderful, Cayer’s poems "count our ragged blessings relative to mass extinction."

</p>

• • •

Kevin Spenst’s Ignite (Anvil, 96 pages, $18) concerns the poet’s father, former Winnipegger Abe Spenst, and how his mental illness (schizophrenia) affected their lives. Spenst’s poems range across an array of styles, from traditional forms such as sonnets to visual poems created by manipulating his father’s medical records.

Spenst’s most powerful imagery occurs when he attempts to ape paranoid and disordered thought, which he does with stunning effectiveness. "Suspicious of stairs as / they seem up but might / trundle down to basements" — that image might fit perfectly into a horror film, and Spenst is adept at communicating the terror that stems from such illnesses.

"I can’t write this down or they will know that I know. Look up casually from this book." While mimicking the voice of a paranoid speaker, Spenst also produces a meta-moment of communion between writer and reader, both of whom are engaged with and through the book Ignite. An outstanding follow-up to Spenst’s excellent first collection.

• • •

Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education (McClelland & Stewart, 120 pages, $19) examines the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake, through poems focused on the historical events balanced against poems focused on present-day moments that suggest the fallout of history, how its horror continues into the present and serves to help us understand contemporary Canadian social relations.

This tension is established immediately, as the book opens with a poem in which the speaker takes a train (the "Number One Canadian") towards Frog Lake and lists its amenities: "shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole, / the luxurious pillows, my last-minute discount. / This is what they starved a people for."

Graham’s project also addresses its limits, the problems of trying to understand a people and their history: "Inauthentic is me reading it out of books, but it’s where I start, it’s where I sit, looking, walking around alone, saying, to you, here, in writing, that it existed. It existed. And it exists."

• • •

Cassidy McFadzean’s Hacker Packer (McClelland & Stewart, 82 pages, $19) mishmashes references for strange, ultra-modern images: "This time of year, Agamemnon’s / tomb is swarming with Beliebers." (It’s sad that my computer didn’t autocorrect "Beliebers" …)

McFadzean’s poems jostle this kind of fun, odd imagery against darker ideas — in one poem, a child covered in burn scars is selected at a school assembly to help demonstrate fire safety.

One poem late in the book contains a line that might be read as a mini-review of the book as a whole: "Most of this is coffee and metaphors, / and mornings waking up in the dark." Hacker Packer is a strong, impressive, dense debut that promises great things.

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

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