Writings / Reviews

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

wild horses

by rob mclennan
Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press, 2010
86 pp. $20

Disturbing Comforter

by Janet M. Manuel
Erser & Pond, 2011
100 pp. $10

Ottawa bard Rob McLennan practices a poetics indebted to Vancouver poet George Bowering’s TISH-borne experiments with space, breath, vernacular, and a casual style that is, yet, taut with ideas. wild horses reflects the year, 2007-08, that mclennan (he prefers miniscule letters) spent as a writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Alberta’s capital spurs on his musing.

One stupid criticism of Canadian poets is that, because we hail from Ecum Secum or Moose Jaw, Come-By-Chance or Kamloops, we gotta be rankly provincial – i.e. parochial. This critique overlooks the fact that our provinces are cosmopolitan, so that Canadian poets, regardless of locality, speak to polyphonic and multicultural reality, or, the world. A.M. Klein’s poetry proves this point, but so does mclennan’s.

In “poem for west edmonton mall,” amid “mirror lights / & whistle flash // a colour coded establishment; bodies drop / amusements pace,” and there is “the replicated soul; santa maria// raising top from plastic; wooden birth // or façade down the boulevard // bombay sapphire gin, the taste /, colonial // what you cant together reach // a slip of bill.” Here is poetry of sinuous discontinuity, of phrases and puns and hit-and-miss punctuation, and the reader must fill in the deliberate gaps in sense. But the lyric yet points to a world of commerce, exploitation, and titillation, apparent in the Edmonton mall, but also extending well beyond.

In “a short walk into exile,” mclennan’s persona wonders, “I am not long, my self-imposed; if I am twinned, / or restless gone // if this my paris, my new new york // what more you, skin?” When one wanders to a new place, if only from Ottawa to Edmonton, is there also a new state of being, of inhabiting a new skin? Like questioning occurs in “map of edmonton (prelude)”: “the green river snakes // does any traveller risk / becoming foreign to those // in his own lands? / his own?” Whether one moves to one place or through another, or stakes a claim, one is still privy to (potential) alienation.

In mclennan’s verses, superficially simple statements disjointed by omissions and disrupted by space, yield endless, nuanced complexity. There’s great beauty in this approach, but also peril: Many poems are so condensed that they become dense opaque – due to all their porous gaps.

“After Jack Spicer” is full of moments where one thinks, I-guess-I-had-to-have-been-there: “a seriality, then … remark / upon both houses // trading in … a mud lark / spinning wheels a ‘transmit’ // sense a swallow whispers.” In this Ph.D.-poetry, any grounded sense of Edmonton evaporates. Even so, wild horses shouldn’t keep you away from wild horses. Catch-as-catch-can.

Janet M. Manuel lives in Summerville, Nova Scotia, on the Hants Shore. Her debut collection, Disturbing Comforter, is her “life’s work” (to date, one should add), and offers meditations on the Other, a.k.a. God, and the workings, as she views them, of Providence in her life. These lyrics are religious, or, rather, faithful to the idea of an ineffable Being that the poet craves to reach, to touch, to love. Yes, these are unabashedly metaphysical poems resembling those of a sister Canadian poet, Margaret Avison (1918-2007), whose prize-winning, gently Christian lyrics were published originally by Nova Scotia’s Lancelot Press.

Manuel’s fusion of the everyday and the miraculous is ecstatic: “In the night / he comes to me, ravishing, / chaste but longing… // why does he come to me? It is a torment a sweet torment and he has told me too much, / shown me too much for a frail frame quaking with the weight of knowing. // I want to run into the desert to sing not go to bed and sleep in flannel sheets and worry / of daily bread.” Manuel’s poems run wild with real feeling: “I am always stuck between, between, between / other images / of best being // I will wait, I guess / for the grown image to / catch up to the one running behind.”

She’s a delight to read. However, in future volumes, she should strive to prune her verbiage, hone her lines, while keeping the eye-opening, pulse-racing, heart-stopping honesty: “our differences crumble into dust.”


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment