Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mooney's second collection offers depth, strange intimacy

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by: Ariel Gordon

Jacob McArthur Mooney's second collection, Folk (McClelland & Stewart, 104 pages, $19), is a kind of archeology and anthropology of his childhood home and his current home - that is, Nova Scotia and Toronto.

But Mooney's poems are much more about placelessness as they are about place.

The first section, for instance, unpacks the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 in St. Margaret's Bay from the point of view of locals, which absolutely includes the kid in "Deterministic Error Chain," "who saw the sign at the saltwater pool that read / No Diving and thought, I should really draw a picture / of an airplane, there."

Folk's second section circles Malton, Ont., whose chief employer is Lester B. Pearson International Airport. And grounding the poems in this neutral location, in an anonymous point of departure instead of a known destination - a known outcome - lends the book depth and a strange intimacy.

* * *
Open Air Bindery (Biblioasis, 72 pages, $19) is also the second collection for David Hickey of London, Ont.

Hickey hails from the Maritimes originally, so here, too, we get prodigal poems, but Open Air Bindery is as informed by the poet's insomnia and his (perhaps concurrent) backyard astronomy as it is by any notion of homecoming.

Set on ferries and in hotel rooms and suburban neighbourhoods with their "collected sidewalk(s)" and "selected raccoon(s)," these poems are wry and tired and human.

Hickey might proclaim himself "lost in the staging / of the twentieth-first century. // And never sure / if it's my turn to sing" ("Short Lives"), but in this book he croons out into never-ending night, ignoring the demands of the day to come.

* * *
To date, more than 3.3 million people have watched Halifax poet Tanya Davis perform her poem "How to Be Alone" in a short film by Andrea Dorfman on YouTube.

The poem ends abruptly, appropriately, with the following lines: "You could be, in an instant, surrounded, if you need it. / If your heart is bleeding make the best of it // There is heat in freezing, be a testament."

Davis is also a singer-songwriter, so it is no surprise that she put out three albums of music before publishing her first book, At First, Lonely (Acorn Press, 72 pages, $18).

The genre-bending Davis is at her best when writing long prose-like meditations like "Lapsed Catholic" (on guilt), "Made in Canada" (on hitchhiking across the country) and This "Tear Is a Word" (on crying in public).

At First, Lonely is a brave little book, full of thoughtful consolations.

* * *
Gabe Foreman hails from Thunder Bay but lives in Montreal, where he manages the soup kitchen at a mission when not writing poetry.

But in his debut - A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House Books, 96 pages, $18) - Foreman is less interested in documenting the disparities between urban and rural or rich and poor and opts instead for surreal soap opera.

Featuring a cast of characters that includes Shy Rhonda, the Oracle, the Colonel and Your Dad, Foreman contemplates "types" as varied as bargain hunters and organ donors, innocent bystanders and empty-nesters.

Think loopy libretto. No, think social network-as-poetry, with its attendant bad puns and empty threats, as in "Armchair Psychologists": "I'm the sort / of extrovert / who makes his own furniture / and forces people to sit in it."

Experimental poets are expected to write their way out of elaborate constraints, through fanciful conceits, and have whimsy to burn.

In Foreman's case, being faithful to the conceit - the encyclopedia format - apparently means including illustrations. They range from pie charts to Venn diagrams to doodles, but their effect is inconsistent and therefore distracting, especially as the poems are so very assured.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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