Leonard Cohen’s The Flame (McClelland & Stewart, 288 pages, $33) was planned by the singer/poet but left incomplete when he died. It contains unpublished poems, other poems that became recent song lyrics, poetic notebook selections and an award acceptance speech. Drawings by Cohen are scattered throughout.
For decades, Cohen’s poetry has been marked by a strange sort of self-parody that oscillates between awkward oddity and utter brilliance. The Flowers Hate Us is a highlight, filled with classic Cohen darkness mingled with hilarity: "the flowers hate us / the animals pray for our death … / Wake up America / Murder your dog."
A confession from Cohen’s notebooks finds him in the dressing room, after a performance, listening to Tom Waits through the walls: "his music … is so / beautiful and original and / sophisticated — so much better / than mine … / … I wish I / could do that."
Another highlight is Kanye West Is Not Picasso in which he writes, "I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is." Truer words were never written.
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Michael Turner’s 9 x 11 (New Star, 86 pages, $18) meditates on the network of influence the World Trade Center terrorist attacks exerted, both in personal, psychological terms and in the economies and politics of capital.
These sharp, minimal poems tear at the spiderwebs connecting the event to more mundane events. Turner notes that "indeed the first paid ad" that appeared after the news reportage cut away "should be remembered as the moment // this country stepped from its mirror sniffed at its humility and announced to the world that its convalescence is over."
Turner’s a national treasure — brilliant, strange, dark and even funny, wry even at his most sentimental — and 9 x 11 has a stark elegance.
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Nasser Hussain’s SKY WRI TEI NGS (Coach House, 96 pages, $20) offers poems created using only the existing three-letter airport codes.
Often, the poems seem to make fun of the absurd constraint with puns and silly allusions to classic poetry. Hussain also comments more seriously on historical notions of poetry’s internationalism, often connected to colonial projects rooted in its supposed timelessness.
The poem STO RIS makes a startling leap from the biblical creation myth to the post-human nihilism of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: "EVE ATE THE APP LES / AND SAW THE LIE / DAV GOT COM PUT ERS / BUT HAL CAN NOT SAY YES."
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Di Brandt’s Glitter & Fall (Turnstone, 108 pages, $19) offers unconventional translations of the Dao De Jing (that simply use Laozi’s text as a jumping-off point).
Brandt, Winnipeg’s first poet laureate, transposes the ancient Chinese poems to the modern Prairies and refocuses their spiritualism into a new-age combination of religious influences, all centring on "the Divine Feminine."
The resulting poems are conceptually messy but individually strong, reviving Laozi’s text for a turbulent landscape: "When we were no longer at peace / we began to speak of duty. / When the country was dark with strife / we began to hear of loyalty and obedience."
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at jonathanball.com.