Arc Poetry Magazine, 2016
Andy Weaver, this. Ottawa, ON: Chaudiere Books, 2015
Jane Munro. Blue Sonoma. London, ON: Brick Books, 2014.
JonArno Lawson. Enjoy it While it Hurts. Hamilton: Wolsak & Wynn, 2013.
If Doctor Who has taught me anything, it’s that time is not linear and that it can be rewritten. While both of those statements are debatable, with a book, we infallibly start at the beginning. But, do we? An epigraph guides, provides context. “Mommy, I’d rather have you dead than crazy,” a chorus line from Yoko Ono’s song I Felt Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Glass Window capitulates a precise period in Brecken Hancock’s recent past and paves a glassy path from there to here.
Deterioration of the mind’s faculties is usually reserved for and nearly expected of all of us when we reach a certain age and is something many of us will have witnessed or know to be true. The realization that early onset dementia of the author’s parent is the touchstone of this book quickly sets in. Hancock explores this difficult subject bravely, unabashedly, lovingly, honestly.
Hancock’s pieces range in length and disclosure. Not one to shy away from the dark or insidious nature of her environment and experiences, she rages against her trauma every desperate, self-saving way she knows or comes to know how; questioning, drinking, witnessing. Victim, though no wolf crier. There is a beautiful and enduring strength woven through nearly each page. I suspect it not only a reflection of the author herself but her knack for crafting concise, rich imagery.
Mirror imagery runs a constant theme as within Mom’s Sisters’ Daughters, Duos, and Her Quiet Not Quite Not Her. From the latter: Accident 5: Slap across the face; my nosebleed confettis / ceramic tile. And then I’m out the door, bare feet / breaking through the hardened heaps of snow behind / our house. To flat a little rabbit skin to wrap my baby / bunt … bunt, my gut moths against the window. / Through the looking glass, I watch her frenetic smear.
Similarly, as with Evil Brecken, the phenomenon of doppelganger and then dual personalities simultaneously decking it out against each other while clinging hands for strength is prominent. It is these poems, which the author details her struggles with sense of self throughout and up against the backdrop of her mother’s constant onion like reincarnation, which strike me the most.
There is a spellbound quality well dispersed and intertextualized throughout Hancock’s debut collection which, at times, read as incantations or mantra as within the poem Lake Effect: Snow blinds the deer hearse. / Snow needles the blood purse. / Snow porridge in the hobo’s bowl. / Snow angels spread for ripper’s toll.
Then, in the lulling Progression Blunts Empathy, Hancock writes:
Hush now, Mama, don’t / say a word. Daughter’s gonna / drink until you’re cured
I don’t mean to comment on religiosity; rather, that Hancock makes fine use of the comforting aspects the objective “one” can spot in religious texts, pop songs, fairy tales and poetry alike. Repetition, sing-song, plot-driven, narrative texts just tend to appeal to the human ear. Hancock executes these isms beautifully and with skill and cognizance far beyond what one would expect from a first collection.
Full excerpts from her chapbooks Strung (JackPine Press, 2005) and the more recent The Art of Plumbing (above/ground press, 2013) and sundry previously published material provide for contrast and welcome respite for the, at times, Poe-like awe some of these pieces evoke. Hancock’s pacing is impeccable.
The, one could call, eponymous poem Once More evokes a highly confessional tone –the same tone which permeates throughout the book but which seems to culminate in this particular piece. It’s as if Hancock is making a last ditch effort to make sense between what the head knows, what the head knows and what the heart can and can’t admit. And it heart achingly works: I love my husband. We made a suicide pact: no suicide / …What time was she travelling through those last, mute years? / …Mother, I’m the witch you raised, raising myself up without you. / …I tried to tidy you up, but I’ll never be done. The forty thousand brooms have overrun.
Nelson Ball’s most recent work, the latest beautifully hand-crafted chapbook from Ottawa’s Apt. 9 Press, is aptly and humbly named Minutiae.
Simply set on rough-edged card stock with a sketch of the poet in profile by Ball’s late wife and extraordinarily talented artist and printmaker Barbara Caruso gracing the cover, you will want to own this as a work of book art alone.
If you’ve read anything by Ball (and I have, though not nearly as much as I would like to), you will know there is a certain quality and tone to Ball’s work; a surface simplicity wrought with layers of contemplative and meditative thought. No space on the page is superfluous.
Typical of his work I’ve read to date, there is much being said in between, above, around and beyond the line(s) provided.
One Way, Then Another
Black night sky
in the lightning’s light
In the night sky
lightning’s light blue
Like Rubin’s vase, Ball has the ability to write about the common or even mundane in that he can frame his poems in a way such that they appear to be about one gentle subject in a few words or line but which are fraught with big questions about subjective perception of reality and life as we each know it. This is the kind of poetry that breeds patience, confusion, understanding, and more poetry. This is the kind of poetry the world needs more of.
While I sit here and pine for access to more of Ball’s work (none the least of some exquisite ephemera stored in jwcurry’s Room 302 collection – come to the next Ottawa Small Press Book Fair for inquiries), I highly recommend you head over to Cameron Anstee’s blog for further information on this absolute treat of a publication and where you can purchase it. Hurry, hurry, though: I was fortunate enough to snag copy 53 of 100 and I don’t imagine this is the sort of thing that will be available for much longer.
To say Ottawa poet David O’Meara has perfectly captured the essence of an existential crisis in his newest collection would be unfounded but not entirely inaccurate, judging from the kaleidoscope of poems contained therein.
Throughout A Pretty Sight (Coach House Books, 2013), O’Meara has the sensibility, wisdom, and humaneness usually reserved for time travelers. Through his words, the reader is whisked from physical to emotional landscapes, seascapes, air-scapes and no-scapes; thoughtful journeys of philosophical contemplation and self-aware perception with often muddied lines. Of the 91 poem-laden pages, one can visit most of Europe through varying timelines, the moon, ghosts, and a ditch (not necessarily in that order).
From a purgatorial conversation between a famous philosopher and an unforgotten punk in Vicious (or, On Dissent) to the beautifully wistful Terms and No One, O’Meara’s poems genuinely raise from the page to burn into your retinas and echo in the shadows of your skull whether you wish them to or not.
Descarte’s cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) is a question I found often asked or thematically present in most of his poems. It seems as if this book is the fruit of O’Meara’s contemplations on this and other insomniac-/crazy-making questions, but that they may even/also be a main source of his joie de vivre.
As in his poem Fruitfly, O’Meara effortlessly bends and blends size, physical space, the macro and the micro to comment on existential thoughts that we all ponder at some point or another but try not to think about too hard at any given time: Who am I? How (in)significant am I? Relative to what? What of the connection between time and space; are these the fabrics of everything we know and understand? Thanks, so long, fish, etcetera.
excerpt from Fruitfly
When Voyager I
was scheduled to clear
the solar system,
NASA signaled its onboard camera
to swing back
and take a picture of home. Six
billion kilometers out,
a ‘pale blue dot’ .12
pixels in size.
I am in there too,
a child in trampled clover.
Retracing his travels through many of these poems, it is hard not to feel romantic and deeply contemplative about the folly of life, death and everything in between. That is a direct challenge, dear reader. Lines like “the way we can follow/someone through snow / to make the going a little easier” and “Paradox: to be perfectly here, you must/ stop thinking about it, then it’s on,” are hard to ignore – and why would you? A stereoscopic view of carefully selected moments painted in moments, O’Meara captures their essences aptly, allowing them to shine in all their honest, questioning, heart-bursting glory.