Saturday, March 27, 2010

Verses heave, sigh in new children's book

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by: Ariel Gordon

IT has been two years since the animal lipograms in JonArno Lawson's A Voweller's Bestiary had (adult) audiences at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival rolling in the proverbial aisles.

Lawson's new children's book, Think Again (Kids Can Press, 64 pages, $19), adopts the quatrain form, something that will be familiar to smart, moody teenagers reared on Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee.

Choked with illustrations by Vancouver artist Julie Morstad but given more than enough room to breathe by designer Marie Bartholomew, the verses in Think Again heave and sigh.

Which is apt, given that the illos and the poems together suggest an ill-fated teenage romance.

The poems also have some snap, which is nice for those parents still reading with (and even those reduced to buying for) adolescents:

"You're clever? Good. Resist the urge / To show it. / You're here not to outsmart the world / But to know it."

* * *

After nearly three decades in Newfoundland, Ontario-born John Steffler has acquired the status of familiar come-from-away.

This confers some advantages on a writer with a naturalist's eye and a poet's predilection for re-examining official histories, all of which is amply demonstrated in Lookout (McClelland & Stewart, 112 pages, $19):

"Forest drawn into / this chewing mouth, comes out in paper, smoke, sludge, / paycheques, houses, lovers, mittens, photos, classrooms, / crackups, breakups, poems, single men sitting in cars."

Though this is his seventh collection, Steffler is very clearly still thinking and feeling his work forward. As such, poems about remote corners of Newfoundland make way for those about his mother's Alzheimer's, themselves followed by poems about the impact of heavy industry on nature and on communities.

At 112 pages, Lookout is hefty, but is one of the few recent collections that seems to earn every single extra page.

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

* * *

As an entry in the dubious "poetry about my divorce" genre, Sharon McCartney's sixth collection, For and Against (Goose Lane Editions, 96 pages, $17.95) is most interesting for its anger.*

Though there are plenty of taboos around women being publicly angry, McCartney is never strident and she never lets content overwhelm form.

The California-born but Fredericton-based poet also has a wonderfully rueful sense of humour, as evidenced in the two-line poem Refrain: "What I fail to do, / repeatedly."

Longtime McCartney-ites need not despair. She includes poems here about her tempestuous childhood and a handful of her trademark in-character poems, this time drawing on novels such as The Sun Also Rises, Lady Chatterley's Lover and (always?) Anna Karenina.

* * *

In Lost Gospels (Brick, 96 pages, $19), Halifax-based Lorri Neilsen Glenn has done what all mid-career poets long to do: make themselves magnificently vulnerable.

Known for her gently feminist lyrics, Glenn has turned her third collection into a series of open-ended questions about faith.

Glenn probes the differences between prayer, song and poetry as a way of getting at what, precisely, faith is. In Loose Gospels, she writes:

"So ask yourself: when desire strums you like a fingerboard, what else can you // feel but faith, how it resonates? Listen: you are the meantime. Walk into the water, / and when the vibration summons your bones, you know you're coming home."

The Prairie-reared Glenn grounds herself, in the midst of all her questioning and uncertainty, in poems about the women in her family, the places they lived and the ways they died.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg poet. Her first book will be launched May 5 at McNally Robinson.

1 comment:

Ariel Gordon said...

* Books Editor Morley Walker re-wrote the first three paragraphs of this reviewlet. Though I have no problem with his editing my work, I'm a touch uncomfortable with the tone he introduced into the review, so I'm also posting my original text:

"Books written in and out of divorce can be difficult to read. The reader has to trust that what they're reading isn't a book-length attempt at getting even.

Or, if it is, the poems have to be so good that the writer's indiscretions don't matter.

As an entry in this genre, Sharon McCartney's sixth collection, For and Against (Goose Lane Editions, 96 pages, $17.95) is most interesting for its anger."