Saturday, January 23, 2010

Montreal's whisky damp permeates first collection

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by: Ariel Gordon

Chris Hutchinson, who was born in Montreal but spent long enough in Vancouver for its whisky damp to permeate his first collection of poetry, is nothing if not consistent.

As that book, Unfamiliar Weather, ended with a poem that referenced Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, so his new collection Other People's Lives (Brick Books, 128 pages, $19), begins with one.

His sophomore effort also continues Unfamiliar Weather's extended abstract examinations of feelings and states of mind.

"Somewhere floats emptiness, / untwisted space, voluminous cavity // in the air which is the air not rushing anywhere - / just stillness, hoving pure, suspended // like a word bubble where nothing is written." (Vocation)

Fortunately, Hutchinson's almost morbid self-awareness comes bundled with wit, intelligence and heart.

In the long poem sequence Cross-Sections, he writes:

"I admit / I arrived complaining. I had colic for a year. / On each sip of consciousness my stomach / swung on its hinge. But you were gone. / So I began to sing."


In his first collection, Never More There (Nightwood Editions, 88 pages, $18), Newfoundland's Stephen Rowe tackles some of life's largest questions.

This comes in to sharpest focus in the long poem in the book's first section on Rowe's father and grandfather.

Rowe is after what it means to be a man - and a bookish male poet, to boot - especially when the grandfather you revere was an ├╝ber-male: bear-like, equally at home in a wrestling ring or a logging camp.

A few poems further in, facing a landscape named and numbered by his grandfather's generation, Rowe states his poetic thesis:

"Is there any wonder / I want to give these places names of my own? / Brand them with moments / like memories, but more real: / walk through this place in sunlight, / surefooted, / hands swinging by my side." (At Heart’s Content)

Rowe recasts the small tragedies of his life in Gander as soaring for-the-ages tragedy in what amounts to a memorable debut.


(Two more review-lets after the turn...)

The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology (Harbour, 160 pages, $27) comes with a warning from Harbour publisher Howard White: "if this doesn't look quite like any book you've ever seen before, don't worry. You're not imagining it."

The book is part homage to the late poet Al Purdy, part biography of the phase of Purdy's career when he and his wife built a cottage in rural Ontario, and part fundraising brochure for the titular A-frame.

But it is also lovingly and luxuriously designed, with scads of illustrations and photos alongside contributions from Canlit luminaries such as Dennis Lee, Stan Dragland and Margaret Atwood.

Though not all of the texts pass muster (how many times do the same anecdotes need to be trotted out?), it is lovely to have a reason to re-read Purdy's poems on the A-frame as well as on the wider Prince Edward County it was situated in:

"Something is about to happen. Leaves are still / Two shores away, a man hammering in the sky. / Perhaps he will fall." (Wilderness Gothic)


Regina writer Dave Margoshes' life and work bears a passing resemblance to Purdy's.

They share a certain swagger, an early unwillingness to settle, and, in addition to both having been writers-in-residence in Winnipeg, both at some point in their lives inhabited renovated chicken coops.

Margoshes' poetry, however, is more tender than Purdy's, perhaps because Margoshes has always had a trio of muses - his two older sisters and his now ex-wife - to write to.

The Horse Knows the Way (BushekBooks, 120 pages, $17.50), Margoshes' fourth collection of poetry and 13th book overall, resembles his earlier collections but also marks a new direction.

In addition to the Margoshes formula of love poems intermingled with voice poems and occasional poems, poems about being in Saskatchewan, Banff, and Emma Lake and poems about the weather, Margoshes is, for the first time, looking back to childhood.

And while his poetry isn't aggressive - or even passive aggressive - when it works it's bloody wonderful.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Her first book of poetry, Hump, will be published in April by Palimpsest Press.


Chris Hutchinson said...

"Morbid self-awareness"--I like that. Cheers.

Ariel Gordon said...

Hey Chris.

With the email I got from Dave Margoshes yesterday morning, I'm two for four with this review...which is kind of shocking and kind of to-be-expected.

Do you review at all?