Nathan Dueck’s A Very Special Episode (Buckrider, 112 pages, $20) takes pop-culture and television nostalgia to the next level by offering careful, complexly crafted creations that seek to splice Saturday morning camp together with musical meter.
In Ode to Madonna, the former Winnipegger asks us, "Could you conceive how rehearsal / is terminated by the premiere recital? / Could you, in a role reversal, / recite live rather than evil?" Read those lines aloud. These are dense, difficult lines that have been so well cut they glimmer and gleam with a casual, breezy air.
Dueck has great talent for elevating any subject he takes on by treating it as seriously as possible, whether he’s discussing Christian Archie comics, Scrooge McDuck, Hulk Hogan, Milli Vanilli, the video game Centipede, the Thighmaster or anything else.
Dense but airy, formal but fun, A Very Special Episode is the perfect dream-antidote to the bitter pills that other poets put on offer.
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Moez Surani’s Are the Rivers in Your Poems Real (Book*hug, 104 pages, $18) offers a mixture of poetic styles and approaches in affecting, thoughtful poems that work hard to interrogate themselves even as they interrogate you.
Surani manages a feat only the best conceptual writers manage (although he doesn’t always work in this mode): he takes a strict concept and creates a list-like poem that breaks the bounds of its initiating idea to become truly evocative.
The Back Burner simply lists "all the issues, people, and desires the New York Times has described as being on the back burner over a five-year period." The result is stunning: "For David Lynch, painting. / The NFL’s stance on domestic violence. / … / All trans issues."
In another poem, Surani writes, "You’ll regret giving us this invitation. We’re never leaving. / We’re staying right here together until we break night’s slim throat." Let’s hope Surani stays restless, writing invigorating poems.
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Howard White’s A Mysterious Humming Noise (Anvil, 120 pages, $18) is written in a straightforward, casual tone, bemused and befuddled at times, especially in regard to its own existence: "Poetry is one of those things humans do that doesn’t make sense / You just have to accept it as an incurable habit, like hoarding."
In another poem, White asks, "Where do you draw the line between / Trying to manage things yourself / And turning your life entirely over to qualified professionals?"
Let’s turn at least a portion of our thinking over to White, who can handle it for us with casual aplomb.
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Ben Ladouceur’s Mad Long Emotion (Coach House Books, 96 pages, $20) is an accomplished followup to his debut collection Otter, obsessing over the fact that "we are fauna lost in thought" in myriad manners.
"I like my ghosts talkative. / Even if all they’re doing is cancelling plans." Impressive and diverse, smart and sinuous, the poems here mine melancholy for mad long emotions.
Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and to celebrate, it is free at jonathanball.com/freebook.