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This article was published 28/3/2015 (1180 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Colin Smith, Winnipeg's most underrated poet, collects new and old poetry in Multiple Bippies (CUE, 134 pages, $20). Smith was an important yet often-overlooked part of Canada's influential 1990s Kootenay School of Writing scene, and Bippies contains a preface by Donato Mancini, an afterword by Smith, and a long interview where Mancini grills Smith over the flames of his KSW past.
Smith's poetry wounds like a silly knife, slashing and gutting to get to the belly laughs. While one poem reports that "my medical status / is PWC (Person with Capitalism)," another demands that we "Simile for the camera! / Nude housecleaning! / Oopsy! / Long weekend!" It's easy to overlook how long weekends have become the perfect capitalist enterprise, and misread "simile" as "smile" since both operate to commodify what we might otherwise have to (shudder) feel.
Smith is a poet's poet. Witness these perfect ending lines: "Omit / strong last line."
Their Biography: an organism of relationships (BookThug, 112 pages, $18) finds Kevin McPherson Eckhoff crowdsourcing his autobiography, inviting us to submit a report on his life. The results range across Eckhoff's supposed chemical breakdown, professions of drunken love, and fun facts. Did you know Kevin McPherson Eckhoff takes up just under three per cent of the Earth's crust, its "seventh most abundant being?"
It's a hilarious, melodramatic interpretation of the idea we have no essential self, but that our personality shifts depending on the day and social context. Where is the "real" Eckhoff inside of all of this? Their Biography suggests the self is a comedy of errors, but the stage rather than the play.
Tracy Hamon's Red Curls (Thistledown, 76 pages, $17) explores Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his mistress/model, Valerie "Wally" Neuzil. Schiele, who was arrested as a pornographer for his artworks, arrests Hamon's attention as an avatar of desire.
"Rituals / layer everything" writes Hamon; the tortured figures in Schiele's nude portraits seem ritualistically wrought, writhing rather than still. Hamon flits between meditation on the artworks, exploration of Schiele's biography, and masking herself in the persona of Schiele, Neuzil, or a modern-day speaker.
"It takes three tutors / to teach my mother / my talent is real... My mother's voice // a clicking insect." Hamon glides between Schiele's real and imagined biographies with ease, in her own engrossing poetic portrait.
Peter Norman's The Gun That Starts the Race (Icehouse, 64 pages, $20) blends formalist rigour with ebullient lines. Whether playing Bolshevik tennis or contemplating a church service, Norman plays images against each other to startling, subtle effect.
Endgame begins with "A watch has stopped. It hides its face, / twisting on the leather strap. / A beetle's impelled to an epileptic dance / by poison it mined from the trap." The poem continues to compare the dead watch to the dying beetle for a surrealistic poignancy while also developing the sense of a relationships's death. In the final lines, "I hear the whine of a fretful gear / straining in its groove / behind a face that turned away / and hands that cannot move."
Norman's poetry balances density with airiness, and makes such tight interleaving of imagery seem effortless. Full of humour and verve, Norman's poems cross the finish line as others are just starting their sprint.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.
Updated on Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 8:24 AM CDT: Formatting.