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This article was published 27/7/2019 (1074 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Derek Beaulieu’s Aperture (Penteract, 56 pages, $15) offers visual poems created using dry-transfer lettering that have been digitally painted in bold, bright colours. The aged lettering has cracked and broken to fix fragments of fragments in abstract arrangements.
The resulting poems are beautiful and strange, hauntingly hanging in a space between the modern and a 1970s imagination of the modern. Each two-page spread contains two colours in reverse arrangements. For example, the lettering on one left page is black against a yellow background, with the facing right page featuring yellowed lettering against a black background.
The design of the book is simple, minimal and elegant, while the poems highlight the imperfections of the material. A gorgeous book that represents a real step forward in Beaulieu’s visual poetry.
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Jay MillAr’s I Could Have Pretended To Be Better Than You: New & Selected Poems (Anvil, 192 pages, $20), edited by Tim Conley, pulls poems across 25 years of MillAr’s body of work.
In addition to MillAr’s more well-known books, Conley draws from the early days of MillAr’s micropress work (before MillAr developed Book*hug into one of Canada’s best literary publishers) and also includes new work.
MillAr’s shapeshifting nature is highlighted, showing off his massive range. Even an otherwise conventional poem about sighting a cormorant on the Humber River twists into knots.
When MillAr reaches the moment where the poem should shift from describing the event to explaining the insight the experience has granted him, he writes, "The bird vanished, you have an epiphany— / It probably wouldn’t have been a very good / Poem anyway … it would have / Been too precious, a perfect example / Of a Canadian nature poem."
And so the speaker decides not to write the poem we have just read, the one deflated by this somewhat-false, but in a way actual, epiphany. An excellent collection that displays MillAr’s restless, inventive wit.
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Stuart Ross’s Motel of the Opposable Thumbs (Anvil, 144 pages, $18) asks its reader, "Did it ever occur to you / that you were born into a / wet barn on a cruise ship? / I don’t know if it’s / even true, but it’s a fact."
Ross brings the reader into a world where "(b)ehind the supermarket, human sacrifices (are) strictly prohibited" and "You handed me a bowling alley made of refrigerators."
While you are out behind that supermarket, definitely not performing human sacrifices, feel free to "give the restless gibbon / a first-place ribbon / and some good-natured ribbin’" and while you’re at it, hand a ribbon to Ross as well for another fun, fresh and frenetic collection.
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Mark Laba’s The Inflatable Life (Anvil/Feed Dog, 80 pages, $18) reads a little like Stuart Ross on meth. Laba loves ladling "like" upon "like" and extending out comparisons to absurd lengths.
The opening poem tries to make "invisibility" visible to us by imagining it being "custom-fitted around / a fireplace or taxidermy marlin or moose head / that was caught, shot and killed / by a great-uncle on your mother’s side / but you don’t talk to that side of the family anymore: / something about a gravy boat, or maybe it was / a gravy train or maybe a grave misunderstanding / about your uncle being buried in a shallow grave."
If you can sort that out, don’t worry, Laba has more twisted imagery in store. Dizzying and dramatic, baffling and brilliant, Laba’s sophomore collection will blow up your life.
Jonathan Ball’s new book of poetry is available at thenationalgallery.ca.