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This article was published 23/6/2018 (509 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"A human’s writing this, I swear," writes Aaron Giovannone in The Nonnets (Book*hug, 72 pages, $18). He has outdone his exceptional debut, The Loneliness Machine, with this collection of nine-line poems.
The poems use simple language in a clean way, but have very complicated resonances. Subtle and dense yet breezy and conversational — a stunning feat given the depth and affecting nature of these startling poems.
"A butterfly flutters by. / That’s my grandmother’s soul. / If you laughed at that, you’re dead inside." Put this statement up against another familial image: "Walking to the car, I’m already sad. / A crumpled bag of Dad’s brand cookies / on the concrete really is my dad’s."
Notice how both contain refrained rhyme and turn clichés into fresh ideas through juxtapositions and joke-like twists. Giovannone’s poems seems effortless and easy, masterfully polished to a shine without losing their edge.
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Eric Schmaltz’s Surfaces (Invisible, 120 pages, $20) contains visual poems themselves concerned with containers — with how writing, as a physical object, is created and contained.
One series of images is crafted out of the shapes that hold negative space inside of a letterform. Simple shapes, such as the hole inside of an O or the triangle inside of a capital A, combine in a complex array of interlocking images with an elegant, radiant beauty.
Schmaltz’s poems extend an already strong tradition of Canadian concrete poetry for a diverse, delightful debut.
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Suzanne Zelazo’s Lances All Alike (Coach House, 88 pages, $20) is the followup to 2003’s Parlance.
In Lances All Alike, Zelazo imagines a relationship between modernist poet-painters Mina Loy and Baroness Elsa von Freytag, who seem to have never met despite having many common friends. Zelazo uses this concept to investigate the ways women and their work have been shaped or suppressed by male gatekeepers.
"Pale repressed energy. / Peace exists somewhere, / freely, wholly, / terribly hard / for my dead mother." The build from one line to the next here gives a strong impression of how Zelazo’s work builds — developing and twisting into rich, thick braids.
Other images are sharper: "Startled / orchestra / crab-crashes / to silence."
Zelazo’s gift for cutting, fragmentary poems shines through in this solid sophomore effort.
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Anne Michaels’ Infinite Gradation (Exile, 82 pages, $20) collects short, poetic essays on art and writing, sutured by small, sad meditations on the deaths of beloved artists.
"Poetry can be an ambush — the glint of a knife on a dark road — because it asks: how much is your life worth?"
Michaels seems obsessed by this question, and how life and art might support one another, rather than vying against the other, when art so often seems to align with death.
"We ask of art not that we understand it, but that it understand us — the same liberty the living often take with the dead."
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at JonathanBall.com.