Ian Williams’ Word Problems (Coach House, 96 pages, $22) questions how making meaning using language breaks down in a world where meaninglessness seems to reign.
Taking language structures simple enough for grade school (the "word problems" we all remember hating) and melding them to issues too complex for adults to solve (which cause social and political unrest), Williams questions the questions we ask.
Two long poems run across each page in "sides" A and B, cutting through the other poems to tell a story of a speaker being racially profiled, and wondering why, how and if he should respond. The individual poems are more self-contained but still circle around related issues in twisting lines. (Often, these lines literally, visually twist into circles and curls.)
Filled with humour and sage advice, like "do unto others as you would unto a white woman." The Giller Prize-winning Williams (for his 2019 novel Reproduction) is a madcap scientist of verse, with a talent for making the experimental seem inevitable.
Sachiko Murakami’s Render (Arsenal Pulp, 130 pages, $19) circles around trauma, addiction and recovery without drawing any straight paths from one to another, instead presenting them together in interlocked loops.
Stark and disturbing, these poems unpack "child-size suitcases packed full of hunger, shoved in the closet, farther back than therapy can reach." The poems work best when they interrogate their own poetic impulses, asking "how exactly / shall I make / art from this silence"?
Render renders the horrors of art and addiction visible by refusing steadfastly to turn from their intertwined snakes.
Jamie Sharpe’s Everything You Hold Dear (Misfit/ECW, 66 pages, $20) is jam-packed with juicy, bright insights, observations as terrible and incisive as the best stand-up comedy: "Loving parents is Stockholm syndrome."
"Whereas seat belts hold you / back, accidents propel," Sharpe writes in another poem. Sharpe has been slowly building a largely overlooked body of work over the last few years, and this might be his most well-crafted, minimal and sharp volume yet, filled with darkly humorous lines and a goat’s head’s worth of bitter blood.
Kyla Jamieson’s Body Count (Nightwood/Harbour, 96 pages, $19) offers stark, short lines that flow conversationally in a manner that belies their careful craft.
In one poem, while recounting a meeting with a mentor, the speaker notes, "the mountains / were nearby / but not listening." This short, sharp shock of a moment displays a crackling intellect while also seeming tossed off with a casual craft mastery.
In this daring debut, many poems examine post-concussion syndrome and sexual violence — examining both insofar as the paradox of dissociation from the body (as a copying mechanism) and feeling too-connected to a vulnerable body intersect in strange and haunting ways.
Jonathan Ball’s newest book is the short story collection The Lightning of Possible Storms.