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POETRY: Violence, intimacy explored in prose

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2015 (1730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Chantal Neveu's A Spectacular Influence (BookThug, 64 pages, $18), translated by Nathana´l, is a dark, dense exploration of violence and intimacy -- of our traumatic connections to the world and one another. Equally experimental fiction, prose poetry and philosophical meditation, Neveu's writing deftly blends genres and modes.

"Because I have no voice anymore, what I say has no air. Did I strangle you? I killed you to let the wind in." Disturbing and shocking, confused and terrified, the voice that develops throughout the poems strains against its own derangement for a way to connect with the world.

"The dead bodies will be moved. Stone has been moved, cut. The bodies will be kept. Will we dare look at them?"

Neveu hits hard where a lesser writer might veer into faux-intellectual abstraction.

Ali Blythe's Twoism (Icehouse, 72 pages, $20) twists and bends into strange shapes, as Blythe develops and complicates stark, startling imagery.

"The future builds monsters / with microscopic locks. [...] I am not here. / I am patrolling the future / in a lab coat." Blythe keeps building and turning this and other poems, drawing strange, surreal scenes.

The opening poem, Hotel, imagines a self-constructed world of isolation and compartmentalized emotion (which, of course, is what a poem is in the first place).

Blythe's stark, deft poems build a spectacular debut.

Nicole Brossard's Ardour (Coach House, 112 pages, $19), translated by Angela Carr, presents sequences of short, fragmentary mediations.

According to Brossard, "the words will soon come [...] / to tear you from the simple present of the abyss" -- these lines nicely summarizes Brossard's method in this book, which is to offer sharp, minimalist observations.

One poem notes that "life devours/ characters and carapaces" while another explains how "we focus on disasters / and overeat," while another suggests "let's make time for torment / eyes yearning for the wind."

As always, Brossard's dense, glittering lines surprise and delight.

Noah Eli Gordon's The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom (Brooklyn Arts, 156 pages, $18) displays a stunning range and a strong, clear voice.

Often Gordon blends approaches, from sardonic to sly to sadly wizened: "ten years ago I wrote 'gushing self-pity' next to a poem / in one of your books I'm sorry ten years ago I thought I knew / everything about what poems should do now I know I know / very little and that it's better this way standing here in the dark."

Another poem notes that "sixty-five million / years ago an asteroid smashed into / the earth what remains is loneliness." Gordon is as adept at these twisting but clear statements as he is at dense, opaque imagery: "pry the copper piping / from your mother's insect voice / either way you'll wake up in static / which is like falling asleep in snow."

Add to Gordon's accomplishments that he hid the perfect poem as a fragment inside another poem. The mini-poem is Chips -- it reads, in full: "Doritos / Cheetos / Madhouse Munchies / Lay's / Tostitos / Erik Estrada / Pringles."


Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at, where he writes about writing the wrong way.


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Updated on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at 8:08 AM CST: Formatting, adds book jacket.

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