95 Books for 2014, List 3, Vividly Living

I’m at least a dozen or so behind in my listing books completed. I’ll try to chunk these into smaller lengths so each instalment is only a few instead of pages of scroll.

  1. The Hottest Summer in Recorded History by Elizabeth Bachinsky (Nightwood, 2013)
    It feels more like a book than most, not in the sense of lineated novel because the common thread is Bachinsky and the stories and tones vary a lot but they add up into bookness. Some individual poem alone make for good light-hearted reading. Others only make sense as part of the plaid criss-crossing other bits. The poems have an offhanded casualness that isn’t sloppy and wrinkled. Dogs, houses, drunk, texting, and hotels. Tributes to places, writer friends and mentors. They’re bouncy and enegetic and sound like her voice. My favorite might be Horse (p. 14-15) for the affection for the horse and the place as she pans back further and further in space and time. She makes a list poem that looks spiffy.

    Eleven Things Treena Could Lift After Her Emergency Surgery to Remove a Thirty-Two Pound Fibroid Tumour
    for Teena Chambers
    Sixteen full grown gerbils
    Eight Mars bars
    Sixteen baby chicks
    Chihuahua puppy (three weeks old)
    At least one hundred gerbera daisies (flower tops only)
    One newborn polar bear cub
    Half a September Vogue
    Ninety Quarters ($22.50)
    One cup of tea
    $450 dollar bills (any denomination)

  2. The House is Still Standing by Adrienne Barrett (Icehouse poetry/Gooseland, 2013)
    Compellingly brisk, sharp and dark it feels like a memoir one stepped removed into the language current. There’s wonder and fear evoked but also delightfully delicious sort of language. Instead of flat language there’s some plumbing symbolic. The trope of dream poem has more control and weight than usual (p. 30) reminding its not the subject but what you do with it. Here’s the second half of “Inukshuk”,

    laying stones in a wall. The stones
    spoke to one another with different
    voices, but they were all me. One
    my stomach, one my head, yet
    only stones. The stone that is my knee
    has given away, I hear it creaking.
    The stone that is my head
    is weeping. There is a cleft
    runs down her back,
    where the armour comes round
    to meet itself. Her baby, her own
    miniature, nudges between hind legs, urgent
    to suckle what moisture
    seeps from a cairn. But Truth:
            she isn’t brittle, she
    will not crack. She sighs
    and her sides expand.

    Lovely to see a dream where there’s the direction across tide towards resilience, even to the level of unconscious. Waking to life, hope. Throughout the language is tight and confident, alert with lively turns with some killer lines. There’s a sense that the writers is interested and curious about subjects. And she proposed a god who is low-function autistic, not fully culpable for his acts. That tickles.
    Fresh and occasionally funny (p. 60-61) “The divine, as children” where “He picks us up, each/in turn, like parsnips//he’s found soaking in the sink”.
    I haven’t read this poem before.
    It is a language that resists sparringly but is considered as well, not shallow. “No more clues; I’ve given/ everything you need. You guys/ would write an obituary/for a wadded up serviette.”(p. 65).

  3. Laws of Rest by David B Goldstein (BookThug, 2013)
    Prose sonnets with some lines (most lines?) that make one marvel at how a mind got there. In a way it feels like its jerking the reader about, and the self. What is it jerking away from? It seems twitchy. But then you have to be in the right mood and frame to read. It took me hours to get a couple pages one day and another afternoon I zipped thru 20 pages in an hour.
    In “Paysage” p. 38, “A bird flew overhear in the shape of a bucket of water” then later “You made up your mind with mascara”. You have to set aside a need for it to mean, or try to read it as one allegorical story. There’s a humour in foiling and deflecting away from any expectation. There’s a refusal to make conventional sense and be seatbelted into the hackneyed plot arc and be dropped down the mechanically geared ride. Moving to stanza 4

    I’ve never seen a falcon tear off the rood in a service in quite that way. They say that only when the sun is mishandled does it speak of God, yet the midtown Holiday Inn was the scene of such revelry. I can only guess at what made the rest of it vanish.

    There are sour digs “Sure if you don’t mind vegans fixing your carburator” “The second movement was Oprah’s fist hitting his gullet”. The whole first section on Lucy is kind of tiring, even dressed up snazzily with some great lines like “When I woke up,/ I recognized I had become a pulpy novel, its covers curling in the damp” (p. 20) Instead of poetic voice in solitude or cacophony there’s the sense of two developed voices and personalities at play so that’s a bonus that many books don’t have in the great Poet Against the Universe Solitude that often prevails.
    “We worked on our foam bicycles and tried not to go outside, all the while trying to restore physicality to our education.” (p. 37) That made me laugh aloud at the absurd-true. What is it that we build in our mental workshops, inside our media-fed brains, our ideas world while there’s an imbalance to life. How does one create a single page. I can’t imagine the wild mind stamina and disciple to make a book’s worth. There isn’t a line where I want to red-pencil syntactic bagginess or obvious or cliché.
    Rich, dense, soundy but signifying too. Poems demand attention as they cavort. Blink and you’ll miss something odd or funny or perplexing. What does it add up to? What are the glimpses netting out to in aggregate? I don’t know if I’m missing the bug picture, pardon the big picture when I see the bug picture: “Every time we visit is like a spider holding everything she loves with her legs.”//You have forgotten my birthday more times than I’ve one one. My intimacy with you is exhaustible.”(p. 30)
    Oddly delightful manic yet controlled and flowing in its own irregular way. Does anything signify or just sound like they should in a way similar to the wisdom lines of pathos of the last couplet in trad lyric verse?
    How is it put together. I’d imagine some would see the text as working against, not cooperating, but each individual is at a place. If there is a distance, people are the animate things that can move. A text doesn’t cooperate or not cooperate. Elements don’t fit together like a business but fit. They non-sequitur like end-to-end koans, and are about intelligence. Could it run as one long poem with no significance to each particular page being a separate poem. Not sure. Is there an itness to each? That might be a question for a re-read. While I may whip through a good ole boy or gal memoir in poetry in an hour it may take hours to go a dozen or two pages. Still, glad I didn’t miss this one.

  4. Incarnate by Juleta Severson-Baker (Frontenac, 2013)
    The poems aren’t complex for complexity’s shape but allow complexity in. You can’t predict where a poem will go but it fits when you are brought there, Lake, (p. 41) I don’t want to make a spoiler but it is an able hand.
    “At the Reservoir” (p35) and “Between Us” are love poems that don’t become sentimental; a hard mark to hit.
    from later in p. 35 to the end, which I presume to be prose-wrap lineated although it’s a ragged right margin.

    Behind me rosehip, kayak, three kayaks passing it’s going to be a wet one the lady in the middle calls and it takes a minute for me to understand. The dry sky and blue, then my perspective shifts into hers—chop of waves against the hull—the splashes on her hands. Isn’t that the way? So much of the day we are inside ourselves like a fossil in a rock, locked and set, just hollowing away beautifully; takes us time, even if we try, to see another’s life. My son with a log, Mom look, look Mom, he heaves it and the droplets reach my blue shoes where they rest on a certainty of wide grey stone, and opening to the oxygen and honesty of the afternoon, I let myself remember how to love my husband. It has been too much about schedules and plans and honey, could you please. I let it take me all at once—he is in me like a fossil in a rock. Together we are very beautiful.

    It holds a moment, a reckoning, a quiet in an direct honest way that synthesized the mixture of fear and balance. I’ve not been there but I’ve been there but my stone wasn’t grey but beige and it was a train not kayaks, and I was alone before dawn but it was that same human moment.
    The first few poems in the book miscue. They seem brassy and try to show off sassy but then the poems settle into a more self-assured voice. Once I got to p. 19 it was a different book and far better. Perhaps the cover’s effect wore off by then. Sexual poems with a snake on the cover set me off expecting some female-self-rebelling/blaming Christianity-wrestling thing.
    Poems like “Marguerite” keep only the salient parts, the dense demonstrative parts and build a momentum. They are smart without cleverness standing between the poem and reader. The inner world is present without blotting out the wider world where there’s Darfur.

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