Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/1/2012 (2033 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011 (Tightrope, 160 pages, $20), edited by Toronto's Priscila Uppal, with series editor Molly Peacock, offers a strong selection of work (despite the inclusion of this reviewer's own poems), culled from literary journals published in 2010.
In such collections, "best" is to be taken with a grain of salt, since the "best" poetry of any year is published in books, not literary journals. Any "best-of" always reflects the tastes of the editor, but where similar collections have too narrow a range, Uppal has included a wide variety of work.
Standouts include Al Rempel's ironic ode to the banana, We Love Bananas, which cleverly skewers consumer demand for the much-purchased and oft-rotted fruit, Marita Dachsel's poem Maria & Sarah Lawrence (about the Canadian wives of Joseph Smith, polygamous founder of Mormonism), and Daniel Scott Tysdal's meditation on pornography websites, The Big List.
In the latter, "the dead / are handed over / to the dead to give // the living more time / to bury themselves," presumably under porn.
Also worth notice are Karen Solie's Birth of the Rifle, which mashes a lyric narrative with philosophic inquiry, and the work of Derek Beaulieu, who uses fragmented letterforms to produce stunning and sometimes furious yet wordless poems. Christian Bk offers more representational visual poetry: his Odalisques are nudes "created by rearranging the 21 components used by typographers to design the letterforms of the alphabet." Although perhaps not the best of the year, it offers a good cross-section of the array of work produced across the country.
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Scotland's Robin Robertson offers translations from across Swedish poet Tomas Transtrmer's career in The Deleted World (Anansi, 64 pages, $17). Transtrmer, who received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, displays a masterful sense of cinematic imagery. The collection's title is drawn from just such an image, of a bus travelling through a dark winter night: "If it stopped and switched off its lights / the world would be deleted."
The volume is slim, and serves as a stirring introduction to the author rather than a definitive collection. The selected poems are spare, powerful, and image-driven. Sometimes Transtrmer shocks with a startling take on the familiar, as when "mushrooms pushing up through the grass" become "white fingers ... stretching for help" from underground, where somebody "sobs down there in the darkness."
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Toronto's Laura Lush also focuses on sparse, descriptive poems in Carapace (Palimpsest, 88 pages, $18). Lush tackles expected poetic themes -- death and birth -- although she occasionally transcends her subject matter with an unexpected perspective: "Tell me, what else is more / beautiful, more punishing / than milk?"
Lush's best poems evoke nature in stark tones: "We walk for miles. God-planned whiteness. / Scats of ice, wolves bunched like scarves." Although walking for miles is a tired cliché (even when true), the remainder of the image uses precise, evocative language.
In another poem, we are told that "The living chattel the earth." Lush has a strong sense of how to use verbs like this to great effect, adding philosophic depth to otherwise simple observations.
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Jenny Sampirisi's Croak (Coach House, 96 pages, $18) is an exciting, original, "frog-and-girl opera" that resembles a YouTube collage-in-words. At her most Beckettian, Toronto's Sampirisi describes a Warner Bros. cartoon featuring Michigan J. Frog in highly stylized, dissociative prose: "Frog sits centre. Mouth closed. / Frog: standing. Right arm: cane. Left arm: on top hat. Mouth closed."
Sampirisi's writing is energized and disorienting. In a monologue, "Girl 00010111" reports: "I wrote Nice Shoes next to your name so I wouldn't forget you. But you showed up without shoes that day. No feet or limbs at all. I stayed quiet at my table."
Cutting through the strangeness is a clear and affecting loss. An exciting and unique book that pushes boundaries without becoming cerebral and cold.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball's most recent book is Clockfire, poems about plays that are impossible to produce.