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This article was published 28/10/2017 (1124 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sina Queyras’s My Ariel (Coach House, 160 pages, $20) engages with Sylvia Plath’s classic poetry book Ariel to offer a dark mix of poems that respond to Plath’s own, while also turning a floodlight on Queyras’s own personal and family history.
Due to the tragic circumstances of Plath’s life and death, and the stunning excellence of her book, she has become an iconic figure whose story seems especially relevant during today’s cultural discussions of mental health and abusive attitudes towards women.
Queyras has a rare talent for crashing a startlingly confessional offering against a detached, analytical tone without undermining either pole: "Write in blood or don’t bother," she proclaims, which serves as a manifesto for the book (itself a manifesto of sorts).
"This is why they stone haunted women. They have to kill them hard to get all the ghosts." My Ariel is a towering achievement, a heavily researched and dense but gripping collection, an exceptional book that confirms Queyras, already one of the country’s most exciting poets, as one of the most impressive.
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Jennifer Zilm’s Waiting Room (BookThug, 100 pages, $18) blends a whirlwind of subjects and styles. Whether considering the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or Sylvia Plath’s therapist, Zilm blends dense imagery with sprawling, essay-like impressions in poems ranging in form from sonnets to mathematical formulas.
"The prophets say the taste of text is sweet and bitter. Sugar discipline. The sweet is the ink and the bitter is the paper. A child learns the alphabet in honey."
Zilm’s is a sharp, searching intelligence that draws mystery from her strange mixtures. A layered, complex, unique debut.
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Anne Michaels’s All We Saw (McClelland & Stewart, 90 pages, $25) offers a host of sparse, striking images: "Lanterns empty their light / into the water / where they are not extinguished // each lamp sets fire to the sea, igniting where it drowns."
Michaels circles around the time-worn subjects of love, desire and loss, casting stark, cutting imagery (such as the lanterns) against more abstracted meditations: "In the cemetery I understood / we keep what belongs to us." What belongs to us? Perhaps nothing, as the cemetery makes clear, or perhaps we keep something that escapes the cemetery.
Michaels adopts a mournful, monkish tone in these moments, piercing the page with sharp slices of a near-mythic world.
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Tenille K. Campbell’s #IndianLovePoems (Signature, 104 pages, $18) offers fun, fierce poems that focus on how race and culture affect sex and relationships.
Sharp, biting lines work to both reflect on intimate moments and connect them to larger social issues with an edge of dark humour: "Signing treaty with / a hickey seared onto skin / that would fade over time / but my interpretation / of his ceding up / would be / forever / remembered / as con- / sensual."
"I never realize how Indian I was / until I started messed around / with non-native guys // You try to explain / why they can’t put their sunglasses / on your smudging altar // awkward." Campbell makes great use of a funny, flippant tone to discuss both weighty racial/cultural issues and casual sex affairs.
Campbell’s poems offer a pleasing subversion of how too-serious poets usually approach desire: "Soul mate / best mate / best friend / tinder tho."
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.