95 Books for 2014

It’s not in the read order yet because books travel around the house.

  1. Road Trip River Voices: Canada Liminal: A Travelogue of Longing Across Two Continents by Lynne Pearl (Snell, 2013)
    The format isn’t the vogue with all lines starting with upper case and running continuously instead of each page getting a poem, but past that is some keen observing and witnessing in the short vignettes.
    It brings a perspective that isn’t upper middle class young person, academic, or middle class senior. Key details are brought forward in The Silent Breakfast (p. 23) in the chapter “Quebec, fall”,

    Living in a world here
    People have names
    Like Maneau or
    And there’s no communication
    With them,
    And it doesn’t matter
    And nobody minds.

    The Walmart Line (p. 39) with understated precise detail witnessing the everyday.

    36D Purple lace bra,
    Electronic rose,
    Dildo shaped Talking Dog
    Beside the Walmart checkout.
    Seven foot tall soldier
    In army fatigues,
    Little Indian cook
    And two sisters
    With buns and side combs;
    The overwhelming nature of folk
    At twenty to five Friday night
    In the Walmart line, New Brunswick, Canada.

    Poems aren’t over-embellished, such as The Poor Woman’s Calendar (the calendar is: progress against the laundry left clean) (p.35). Poems are frank but curious and have an air of hope. There’s some truisms and patness but it is a young work but worthwhile.

  2. Muse by Dawn Marie Kresan (Tightrope, 2013)
    Poems keep to theme subject of artist’s muses. I’m not sure that it overturned of the idea of woman but it questions the given narrative and that’s relief enough sometimes. It expresses the frustration of reading male history (p. 61 “Fetish”)

    The death of a beautiful woman is, without question,
    the most poetic of all topics, at least according to Poe.
    Hunt and Rossetti seem to agree.
    […]Her face turned, surrendering to the viewer’s gaze.
    her body stuffed into a corner,
    her feet cut off by the frame’s edge.
    What is it with these guys and feet?

    It builds counterfactuals and gives history, as we know it, some lip. History is made to be broken, right.
    The third section was most imaginative of them with women meeting women in other places and times. I feel the poems could have pushed further, been as vivid and peppery as the peppy conversation. “Domestic Goddesses in the Kitchen” (p. 67) puts Persephone and Elizabeth in the same kitchen but why so much transposing of context and still in the home baking pies? Women change over time as Persephone “sucks/the seeds from a pomegranate, feels them burst/between her teeth” but

    No longer wanting to be mythical, Elizabeth quarters
    apples, sprinkles them with cinnamon and nutmeg.
    Throws away the seeds. After all, an apple
    is sometimes just an apple.

    And later there’s a walk through a cemetery with Anne Sexton who asks

    And what about you? I’m surprised you’re still alive, bloom fading and all. Not even a suicide attempt, and what are you—pushing forty? You have posterity to think about.
    I’m not even close to forty, thank you very much! Besides, times have changed. You still don’t buy into that death as creative feminine act bullshit, do you?
    She doesn’t answer

    Fiesty sort of poems, as you see. She dialogues with Rosetti, Elizabeth Siddal, Anne Sexton, Dorothy Woodsworth (William Woodsworth’s wife) to in-fill history with glossed over women who were aids and muses, tries to flesh them out.

  3. Believing the Line: The Jack Siegel Poems by Mark Silverberg (Breton Books, 2013)
    The art was good. I haven’t heard of Jack Siegel. I don’t know anything about drawing but I liked the line drawings.
    The poems as ekphrastics did a disservice. Poems were expected and anti-climatic against the art (p. 14, 120, 122). They were like captions that overlap and say less than the images.
  4. Dewey The Library Cat is a memoir of a librarian, a patriotic guidebook to Iowa, and in at least 1/3 of the book gives passing mentions to the cat in question. There’s a refrain that doth protesteth too much of how the librarian/writer did nothing to draw attention to the cat. The media world and public just sought out the cat by themselves.
    I was sure I wouldn’t finish it because it is written as if collated articles. Chapters heavily overlap with one another repeating what was stated just pages ago. And then the plot arc became clear (discovery, happy times, lingering illness, death and grief). Because I am a completist, I wanted to finish it, and because I don’t want to kvetch about this self-published-quality-tome, I wanted to finish it, except for the last page so it wouldn’t go on this list. Because one doesn’t like to complain but.
    The cat ages and widdles and avoids people because it has so many health problems. A year in the life gets about a paragraph per year as she recounts her marriage, various people dying and rhymed doggeral of memorial tribute. It was a New York Times bestseller. Years after the cat died, it is still used to promote the town. How baffling is fame. Nearly 30,000 people rated it at GoodReads. Many complain it is packaged well but misleading packaging.
  5. White Piano by Nicole Brossard translated by Robert Majzels and Erin Moure.
    It was more vague and meta than the last book I read of hers. It feels more like imagination than experience somehow, less dense and less broad. A lot of big nouns like mystery, darkness, absence, melancholy that makes me restless for something to be said. At least get out of the mulling and make a sound or gesture. If you have to not touch down in anything concrete “vertical valour/ 500centuries of liquid light” isn’t a shabby way to go. The whole seemed kinda wistful and sad, like:

    reading helps us vanish
    the everyday self from words reborn
    there wehere once we left as dust
    anonymous in the mystery of breaths
    or in a book line skipped typo erased


    a little Casanova kissed in the Florian:
    she held her like a key in the conversation
    keeping a certain distance with her words
    so that vous-même surreptitiously broke her heart

    I’m not sure what payoff I expected. I said little more than colour me impressed when I read Notebook of Roses. That work was higher energy, more bodily than this which seems composed while being in the gap between getting to places and having left being with people.

  6. The Sea With No One In It by Niki Koulouris (Porcupine’s Quill, 2013)
    Why are page numbers on the right side of the page for left and right pages. It doesn’t matter any more than use of hyphens but I’m easily distracted sometimes.
    The sections of the book suggest that it’s half is about land, half about sea but it’s a pretty boggy between. Perhaps it’s fen.
    I’m not the ideal audience. I can’t find the wavelength. p. 22, not surreal enough to be surreal or absurd, but doesn’t make sense either. Are they humour? Must be.

    Today the fish are sober
    underlines by other fish
    actuaries, surgeons, archers
    as they arrive
    in the order of the fish
    again no one is snorkelling
    in these seas
    there are so many
    waves, it’s hard to know
    where to begin
    in summer the are no
    holidays for fish
    maybe they take them
    in the spring
    what better day
    to work as watchmen
    of three islands
    turning the sixth
    and when they die
    among the stethoscopes
    they’ll find these shores
    have ribs
    still they must have
    of the steak of Africa,
    the broken comma
    of New Zealand

    What do we know? There’s a dream-like narrative. The right ragged margin tends to have grammatical words as much as content words.
    Observations seem omnidirectional instead of pointedly leading the eye (p.38). It seems to be vague-tweeting. Something critical is being said but I don’t quite grasp it. I think has symbolic meaning but what are the references? It chimes from sound to sound in a dream-sense but doesn’t accumulate a rhythm or force. Here, you look:

    (Logic deployed while comparing a Kwakiutl First Nations wooden wall carving of a bear to that of an eagle at an aboriginal art shop on Granville Island, Vancouver, B.C.)
    The bear is carved
    by the same man
    as the eagle
    both painted the red and green
    of 1940s rose bushes, law books,
    it is true no man
    carved out the owl-eyed phone
    and maybe if he had
    he would have had until it rang
    to finish his mask of kings
    the carver perceived as a threat
    by his creation’s pop-up horns,
    as he answered the call of the wild
    made without beak or maw or dialled
    for pizza without claw or paw.

    Is there a criticizing the carver for living in a world of phones and pizzas yet still carving a bear instead of urban everyday things, or criticizing the shop for selling the idea of naive art and therefore Natives as Naive Other? Commodities like a novelty phone is placed on par with native craft and “mask of kings” (ancient Egyptian?) Factory made is divorced from human? Some reference to a corporation and its relationhsip to “the wild”?
    What’s the pulse or music or undercurrent? I wonder if the tone would be clear if I heard a live reading.

  7. The Monument Cycles by Mariner James (Talon, 2013)
    Is it a poetry customized for Canadian poets for a nation in answer to the question of what do we need to carry forward into the future? Which stories? “voids need collective memories.” It seems appropriate content to be state poetry of Parliamentary Poet Laureate which give thumbnail summaries of big stories like École Polytechnique to Pauline Johnston to natives blockading railway. The subjects are under-addressed in poetry but the reading isn’t particularly compelling or convincing perhaps because it feel fragmentary in images and fleeting in subjects. It seems like what would be chosen as a useful core textbook for teaching poetry and history in the high school curriculum.
    p. 45 “false witness (language part one)” rips around the idea of fragments and melds it to lyric nod to transitory life and death and living in a built environment.
    p. 48 “approach” takes a different energy for a spin.

    an account of the self usually includes motion:
    i’m going home i’m heading out i’m going inside it’s cold head
    first and foremosted, fluxing and frosty kins
    hip, heaving head up and forward
    waves and waves, radiation and electricity,, washing
    clean out but never clean. particularity
    and pleasance to each a station, in motion
    temporally, spatially
    transit is the destination
    measure for measured breaths, clocking in
    and counting down town
    aerterial and batteries, ipodded and slackjawed
    hypothesis or veritable institution?

    And so on a rapid run of hyper contemporary unstill thoughts. There are also flash fiction blocks that are barren vignettes from street people and addicts, salvaging wire to buy a hit, or a streetworker being hit “Face purple like a starfish. She was like a knot or a windstorm; the worse she was treated the stronger she got.” How do you treat a windstorm badly? They are uniformly grim and I think pitched as stories of survivors going with intelligence, perseverance and wits in a bad scene. But they feel like narratives rather than a particular person somehow. I’m not sure what’s missing that makes me think that. That said, it does the work of observing the immediate contemporary, the caffeinated culture, does socially aware class-related, economics-related poems that draw the eye past personal poems of love stories or grief stories.
    There’s more shine in the everyday where Janes demonstrates the power of a simple inversion “that dead frost/stiff with sparrow” (p. 23) Each poem is a stand-alone with a diversity of styles but without flow to the book. Numbered “experiment in form” seem departures within departures like commercial breaks.

  8. The Sky The by Michael Sikkema (Serif of Nottingham Editions, 2012)
    Okay, ‘fess up. Who knew that Serif of Nottingham Editions has been going for decades and didn’t tell me? Could I be that oblivious? I got a lovely package of a few chapbooks including this one. I think I may have fallen in love with a new poem. “How to get found in the woods”

    underfoot, this
    hallelujah shines carroes
    our hands toward
    our hands. I said do-wah
    do-wah and you
    kissed me back

    I could quote a bunch “How to talk to the transformation witch”

    Which moon
    tickled your haystack
    honey? Remember
    you’re lucky. Most
    old galaxies look
    like train wrecks

    And there’s a series of language playing poems running thru each called blr. Here’s one

    Break me off some blanket, I don’t
    know those trees from here
    I heard your shower pattern
    and thought meteorite
    all night, thought accordion
    trafffic and shook the chandelier
    then a leg, balanced the eggs
    how you like

  9. Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie (Penguin, 2013)
    It has a great premise but the promise of a premise often derails into the primroses in the wrong hands. He takes the first and last sentence of a classic, such as Twas the Night Before Christmas, and goes from point A to point B by a different path. It’s a written version of the improv game, First Line, Last Line.
    Some are kinda tiring. Some are quite the mind-jump when you realize what he’s just grafted together. His take on arthurian legend, kind of, and 1984 is just zany with soupçon of contemporary politics. Moby Dick becomes something truly strange with magical toupées that are not only becoming but become fused to the the person’s mind and body. Sometimes he takes the characters in new directions. Sherlock Holmes and Watson get a wider fan-fiction kind of relationship as Watson explores what stand-up comedy is. He takes Casey at the Bat and continues the doggerel into Casey the NHL player love machine hitting on chicks at the bar. He did a few of those pattern, which as improv or live with his gamboling could work.

    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
    When the space–time continuum suffered a tear.
    The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
    iPod Touch earbuds attached to their heads.
    The wife in her jammies retired with tea
    While I shoved all the gifts ’neath our fake Christmas tree

    They’re largely a light quick read and kind of baggy writing, or breezy if you prefer. Some of the prose I’d love to tighten the prose just say, 5%. “As the weeks turned into months” seems unneeded anywhere, for example.
    But that all said, A Tale of Two Critters made us laugh and wide-eyed and how’d he do that. It is twisted and marvellous.
    Downside, if we’re going to headhop into history, can’t we fix up the wrecks? Is not word “midget” and an extended joke of how ugly is your baby, oh, baby brandishes a weapon. That must be a midget. It’s a classic from en era when that was funny. Humour is a moving target. Why keep that and women as beautiful or stupid as main trait and not keep slave servants and beat them for a laugh? Isn’t that the same culture?
    Women are characterized as beautiful, are a plot device. Even when a chicken is literate, brilliant even, the female is a dumb cluck that he is only attracted to for beauty and is the cause of his suicide. The book started so well and was diminishing returns.

  10. Acknowledgements and Poems by Avonlea Fotheringham (Self-published, 2014 with design by Stephen Watt)
    A gorgeous little book with hand-stamped cover and bound with rough cord. “Vocal Attraction” is piled on loveliness of almost giddy joy of hearing someone’s voice.
    P2224792 P2224793
    Here’s a quarter of the special voice that could read you the phonebook for all you care,

    it tumbles around in my head like the impossible, resonant purr of a newborn kitten sitting helpless in the pal of your hand; like the perfumed sound of coffee percolating at 5am in the dead dark of winter; like the crisp cold purity of the season’s first frost cracking gently under your boot soles. It tangles me on a loop; on a loop; on a loop; on a loop and leaves me hanging in the shattered silence of its wake

    “Gazebo in Rain” is tender of the sheltered silence when, “We’d remember cold night blowing smoke out the bathroom window, and the aluminum bellies of planes rushing overhead before becoming constellations. Nothing had to change”.
    “Fragmentation” ponders identity and thinks though what we are. “You realize that if there is a Who lurking in your skull, then it is nothing more than a response: changing, adapting, questioning, compromising. You change your environment, you change; you change your friends, you change; you change your life, you change. You realize that really, you are just a nondescript helium balloon perpetually anchored to something else, and you realize that your Who is not so much the helium balloon as the anchor it is attached to.” But wait, we’re still only 2/3 of the way through thinking. Fascinating though process.

  11. Lush language and appealing realness to the poems. The audience feels like what one wants one own’s heart to remember instead of public performance of what one should say.

  12. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, 1994).
    This was recommended to me. A few people have said it’s on their list of regular re-reads. “Hilarious” is mentioned on the cover, a blurb-speak which generally translates to “mildly amusing at times” or “irritating”. It is funny here and there. Laugh aloud funny for hubby in sections. Her neurotic hyperbole about trying to get an idea started or students who just want an agent and to be famous but aren’t interested in writing per se all nail what I’ve seen. She has solid advice on character-making. What to do to get test-readers? How many do you need? What to do with jealousy? There’s a lot of mention of working things out with a therapist. Like her idea that the more you write and think about a subject, the more its like a polaroid developing. Living is the filling up and writing is the emptying out. If you can’t write you’re filling up with presence.

    You may as well get some fresh air. Do you three hundred words, and then go for a walk. Otherwise you’ll want to sit there and try to contribute and this will only get in the way. Your unconscious can’t work while you’re breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going ‘are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?’ But it is trying to tell you nicely, “Shut up and go away.”

    I like her perspective of make what is missing and what you need to as a gift to someone in particular. There were no books on dying or about single moms that “were funny and sick and therefore true”. “They were all so nicey-nice and rational”.

  13. heart badly buried by five shovels by Hugh Thomas (Paper Kite Press, 2009)
    I have a feeling I went to one of his readings before this year. I have his first chapbook from above/ground, and his second of translation poems that I mentioned here a few days ago. You can hear Literary Landscapes tonight to hear one poem from his chapbook in the Two Things I’m Reading this week.
    There are truth lines “The shortest distance often looks curved. Nature was clearly playing.” And yet it also touches down on particular references, like Toronto. There’s some sweet leaps. For example in “Recognition”

    You’re that jazz musician,
    that one that was on TV.
    You aren’t but you could have been.
    Isn’t that so?
    Something has to be excluded
    but now that you mention it
    I don’t know what.
    Like tying your shoe, it’s for the best
    if you don’t think too much about it.
    If your tie were a Möbius strip
    you’d sure be in trouble.
    Fortunately I have scissors with me.
    I’ll cut a small piece off, just to be safe

    Hubby reports that I’m never happy in a story, movie, song, poetry, unless it doubles back to contradict itself. There’s something to that. Nonsense makes more sense than attempts at sense. There’s something good-natured and with a well-being in the world to the poems with their comic absurd turns. There’s a liveliness, an animation rather than chasing one set trajectory as if on a highway. I suppose it is more of a hiking discovery sort of path.

Alright, to be continued as always. I’m rolling chapbooks in with books because I have a hiccup with separating them. Why should the UN definition define it? When I run year end numbers, perhaps I’ll do a double set, one with “spine books” and one with the rest. We’ll see.

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