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THE Annotated Bee & Me (Gaspereau Press, 55 pages, $19) is award-winning Edmonton poet Tim Bowling's eighth collection. It's a quirky, shimmering, stingingly sharp work of lyric wonder. And, as book production goes, another Gaspereau Press beauty.
A response to a self-published chapbook left by the poet's late aunt of her family's bee-keeping days, The Annotated Bee & Me excerpts family conversations, voice-mail messages, family photos and even personal greetings in a conversation-collage with the past: "I'm Tim Bowling. / I'm five foot nine. I write poetry / and I don't keep bees... . Hello. / Who are you?"
Bowling pays homage to the mothers, the queen bees, the generation and regeneration of that most "antiquarian human" hope: "Daily we spread it on our toast."
This is a personal collection from Bowling, who rises with charm to the tender, joyful placing of himself within the permanence and loss of a family history: "Who do I console if not my life?"
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On the other side of the lyric, but equally beguiling, is The Irrationalist (Anansi, 91 pages, $23), a wry second collection from award-winning Canadian expatriate Suzanne Buffam, who teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago.
Buffam negotiates what it means to be human through the playful juggling of intellect (with debts to Aristotle, William James and Plato) and its irrational, humorously self-indulgent counterpart: "So lead me O Destiny whither is ordained by your decree, / Just please don't force me to vacuum the stairs."
Sarcastic and hopeful, cerebral and evocative, Buffam exposes real-world facts in the face of her highly-imaginative interiors.
In one of the more narrative poems, Trying, she considers the human soul alongside conception techniques, fate alongside basal body temperatures: "If procreation were a matter to be decided purely on the basis of rational thought, would the human race still exist?"
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Montreal's Suzanne Hancock strikes an exquisite imagistic tolling in her second collection, Cast from Bells (McGill-Queen's University Press, 68 pages, $17).
Guiding with the image of bells cut from their towers during the making of Second World War munitions, Hancock considers formations past and present as they correspond to relationships, both animal and human.
Composed as a long poem, the sequence swings back and forth between war and divorce, bells and bullets, a hopeful heart and "a body that clangs with absence."
In wide, chiming, vivid strokes, Hancock casts beautifully the struggles of aloneness in a refined lyrical light: "Something bangs against the walls of the heart and silently starts to sing."
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Winnipegger Lori Cayer's second collection, Attenuations of Force (Frontenac House, 93 pages, $16) harnesses forces of the ether to compose a memorable "dictionary of air."
From tornadoes and fallen pigeons to shoplifting and parenthood, Cayer's poems are built on tendons of faith and exasperation at their storm-cell nexus: "Survival is about getting close enough to what you need."
In the opening poem, Day Job with Dead Pigeon: A Series of Sticky Notes, Cayer reaches out to the "hand-shaped mess" of a dead pigeon in a meditation on mortality that exposes the grit, decomposition and a "belly full of white bread / tasting of hands."
These are poems that touch down with tender inquisition, making peace in the aftermath of life's many storms. From childbirth, failed relationships and abandoned dwellings, Attenuations of Force shows us how "that which we choose to celebrate, makes us."
Winnipegger Jennifer Still's second collection of poetry, Girlwood, will appear in 2011 from Brick Books.
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