Coast Mountain Foot by Ryan Fitzpatrick (Talonbooks, 152 pages, $17) takes the authors move from Calgary to Vancouver as an occasion for writing back against George Bowerings 1968 classic Rocky Mountain Foot, which Bowering wrote after moving from Vancouver to Calgary.
Fitzpatrick complains less than Bowering, for a more cerebral engagement with the shifting tectonics of city life focused on the intertwining of the two cities (economically, politically, socially and even psychically).
No / solutions, only problematizations are on offer in Fitzpatricks poems, which at turns offer biting critique, sidelong jokes or thoughtful questions. Are there words / for space that / arent consumptive? // For digesting / a neighbourhood / swallowed whole?
Through it all, Fitzpatrick displays real command of the line, but resists showiness or performing emotion the way too many poets do, and the resulting poems Dont get / too sentimental // but dont / abandon sentiment.
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Deepfake Serenade by Chris Banks (Nightwood, 80 pages, $19) captures the unnecessary pain of the modern era well, where You win. You Lose. A girl with / an In Training pin hands you a coffee out a window. / It doesnt matter whether you are there or not.
Is there anything / sadder than self-checkout at the grocery / store? another poem asks. Such banal melancholy is balanced against more bombastic imagery, elsewhere in the book: Night is the grave we rise from each morning.
At other times, Banks pins with precision whole industries on the spearpoint of a single joke. CanLit / is a giant potluck where everyone brought / knives and no one thought of any food. The poems have a real minimalism in their lines, married to a dense patterning in how the images collect, for a powerful collection that blends hard-won wisdom with slow-burn hot takes.
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Roguelike by Mathew Henderson (Anansi, 80 pages, $20) takes up the metaphors of video gaming to add a level of flatness and strangeness to topics that might otherwise too easily get caught up in sensationalism, such as mental disorder, death, and violence ironically, the very topics that get sensationalized in video games themselves.
This approach works best when Henderson actually attends the surface level of video games and takes their moments of melodrama seriously, as when discussing the plot of Final Fantasy VII: You should never / have journeyed to the caves, never escaped / the city, but held the flower girl in sector / seven, hid your eyes, let Midgar burn.
Using the tropes and language of gaming to discuss everyday life events, or non-everyday dramatic life events, works less well but still produces an interesting friction and some stunning effects. Some spells you get to use just once, writes Henderson in one poem, but he manages more often than not to cast the right spell.
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Earth-cool, and Dirty by Jacob Lee Bachinger (Radiant, 72 pages, $20) uses a blank, direct style clashed against sharp, strong images to great effect.
The world has been like this / for as long as anyone can recall, states one poem, while another offers a darker, stranger claim: As a fish / returns / to the river, // so the knife / swims / into your hand.
Quick turns that catch the reader off guard nestle against quieter, subtler moments in this impressive debut.
Jonathan Balls latest book is a comic series titled The Eye Collector, co-created with GMB Chomichuk and published by Heavy Metal. Visit him online at jonathanball.com.