Erín Moure’s The Elem : ents (Nam : loz) (Anansi, 106 pages, $20) delves into the poet’s family history, connects this to Galician peasants struggling against Napoleon’s invading armies and meditates on Moure’s father’s dementia as its own method of revolt.
Moure also explores how language works both to create and to close or limit meaning, and how the spaces between languages, and inside translation, operate as a creative space. Moure’s in fine form in this chaotic collection.
Although these are all new poems, the book reads almost like a greatest hits, in the sense that it seems to tie together threads from many of her previous books. Moure even includes a translation by her late father of a poem from her book Little Theatres.
Moure is one of the country’s most accomplished and impressive writers, who never rests and always keeps searching for new effects and pushing herself into new places, and The Elem : ents is a dense, fascinating book, "a workbook for heaven in and among the fires."
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Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Cluster (McClelland & Stewart, 104 pages, $20) examines how "meaning" itself clusters, collecting around particular events, objects, moments or language. At the same time, Thammavongsa explores its explosions, as meaning overruns and off-loads in sometimes senseless, terrifying ways.
The strongest poem in the book, O, begins as a consideration of the letter form itself and develops to incorporate the continued presence of active cluster-bomb fragments in Laos, dropped during the CIA’s devastating "secret war" against that country.
Elsewhere, Thammavongsa takes on less weighty subjects, but throughout the collection the lightness of her lines, which seem ready to drift away, creates an interesting tension with her sometimes dense, sometimes airy subjects. All of it makes for an excellent, exploratory, engaging collection.
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Hugh Thomas’s Maze (Invisible, 88 pages, $18) offers strange, often surreal or absurd, twisting poems.
"Eventually, the mutation becomes the norm. / More people go to the art gallery, / and the art gallery develops extra limbs." The bizarre imagery hides the plain-spoken fact (they add new wings to galleries as public interest and funding increases) and serves as a useful metaphor for how artistic development itself takes place throughout history.
Thomas’s lines work best when they lay this extreme strangeness overtop an otherwise normal event, or when they set up and complicate what could be an otherwise plain image. "Yesterday, two crows watched / from the tree outside my window. / Today, the tree has flown away."
A clever, complex debut, Maze will draw you into its labyrinthine, snakelike halls.
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Sadie McCarney’s Live Ones (University of Regina Press, 70 pages, $20) is filled with live ones, electric poems that sparkle like jewels.
"We freeze all those we might still / save," McCarney writes of fruit affected by blight, but the initial ambiguity of those lines offers a lot for the reader to ponder.
Elsewhere, McCarney returns to icy imagery: "we are / that snowplow, blinking on-off orange. / O, we are the impossible snow." The poems delve into personal histories and small events with the care of a mythological study.
An outstanding debut with a massive range of material, intense and sharp, these poems develop icicle-like as their images stack and crystallize.
Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and to celebrate, it is free at jonathanball.com/freebook.