Friday, 7 October 2016

A Look 'Round - a/g REVIEW

Rev. of George Bowering’s That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go?

                                                     by Joseph LaBine

     There is a baseball on the cover of George Bowering’s latest chapbook from above / ground press. The baseball is a new Chicago poem in six numbered parts. This little chap is delightful. It complements Bowering’s classic Baseball (1967), nearly fifty years after the fact, “The white sphere / turns, rolls / in dark space” still.

     The new poem, “That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go,” is ‘set’ during May 4–9, 2016, at “Miller’s Pub”; the “Art Institute”; a bathroom in the “Palmer House” Hilton; then, down on “Wabash,” and to a game at “Wrigley,” before finally departing from “O’Hare.” All of these places are key sites in Chicago but they also form a ball’s trajectory, a parabolic sequence, or a long weekend stay. The poem is a trip down to Chicago but Bowering’s poetry emphasizes looking rather than anecdote. (Batters have to have a ‘good eye’.)

      Approached in this way, the language of “That Toddlin’ Town” seems less effervescent than its predecessor Baseball. It’s more perceptive, focused on closer observations, and bleak ones. Number “5.” begins with Bryce Harper in the ballpark before dropping down for closer introspection, line by line:

                        in a home run
                        park saturated
                        with fried onion smell.
                        His shoes
                        were pink for
                        mother’s day
                        against cancer,

                        not the Cubs.

 “That Toddlin’ Town” is also funny and playful, sharing in the humour of Bowering’s original ode to the game, but this time with a wondrous dose of crankiness:

                        What did they
intend in
naming the toilet
paper “Envision”?

We are all looking. This is the unifying theme. Bowering simply connects the act of looking with the imagination. The result is the crack of clean contact between the ball and—

                        Unless it or
                        the sky is
moving it can’t be
a skyscraper.

    Strong stanzas encouraging us to wonder, like this one, are tempered by commentary about “cheerless texters” trapped on Smartphones: “Most people / though are looking / downward at info / they might want.”

     Six small, three-stanza sections, six iconic locations, six days, all looking, making snark-comments, all implicitly dedicated to the start of baseball season, and it is a pleasure to read “That Toddlin’ Town” as a single poem at the end of baseball season.   

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Review of Kilby Smith-McGregor

“swelling that anticipates”: Review of Kilby Smith-McGregor’s
Kids in Triage (Hamilton: Buckrider, 2016)—80 Pages—$20
 by Joseph LaBine 

     Kilby Smith-McGregor won the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award and her debut poetry collection, Kids in Triage, explores elegiac and sorrowful lyric forms.

     The book is a dizzying overcoming. Its media-stained elegies point to kitschy common fetishes: fear, emergencies, deviant sex, public and private grief. Smith-McGregor insightfully acknowledges how we value surface truths. The opening epigraph from Wallace Stevens is a curious touchstone in regard to this theme:

It is a violence from within
that protects us from a
violence without.

     Stevens’s lines inform Smith-McGregor’s most emotive poems and, particularly, “The Wife of the Man I’m seeing”:

                                    Gets hold of me in the shower, slides
                                    her fingers down my ribs and cups
                                    my belly from behind. I’m afraid she’ll
                                    jam her pinky in my navel and deflate me,
                                    or pry out the umbilical root and pull.  (58)
Here the title drops down and, as with every breaking line, “slides” arrestingly to surprise the reader each time: fingers slide, hands cup a “belly”; breaking the line between “she’ll / jam” quite literally jams the syntax, the comma “deflate[s]” the sentence; but none of these are more tantalizing and threatening than the concluding image in the last line of the stanza, “pry out the umbilical root and pull.”

     The word economy of “The Wife of the Man” and the effect of its line breaks make it a great poem. It is one of Smith-McGregor’s best - mysterious and yet direct, powerful but vulnerable, deeply maternal. In a small space one sees the driving motifs of the collection some of these include pregnancy, motherhood, divorce, the entitlement children feel they have, grief, and both physical and emotional trauma.

     The aim of the more ambitious, technical side of Kids in Triage is to catalog impossibilities / miscatalog. The headier poems in the book frequently elide clarity, confound, and confuse the reader. Brecken Hancock notes this is part of Smith-McGregor’s technique, “to provide a diagnostic manual for the mess of the human condition.” But many of these poems are bereft of meaning and will leave the average reader wondering whether or not they are failures. The notes on pages [69-71] help with some of these longer sequences especially the poems that fail to establish an emotional connection through the use of the lyric mode, like “Untitled (NO RADIO)” and “From The Artist’s Private Collection.” Such academic pieces would be better served in a thesis or a project where requisite theories and the motives for using them are outlined more clearly. 

     Kids in Triage is a varied debut but the poems that dare to be conventional (rather than experiment for the sake of it) show tremendous promise. Smith-McGregor has a seeming predilection for the spoken word, what Gil Adamson calls her “gusts of cadence [and] fired language.” Hearing the book’s more muddled poems spoken aloud may draw them out more.

     Charming design by Wolsak and Wynn (and zephyr paper from Coach House) make Kids in Triage an impressive book. The author is also a “freelance graphic designer” by trade and while the cover is gorgeous in red, and while it anticipates the author’s ode to the colour with “Red pools. / Red glances. / Red glares.” (26-27); one expects a little more from the appearance and visual layout of the poems themselves. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

REVIEWS of Lea Graham & Marilyn Irwin (Apt. 9)

Chapbooks from Apt. 9 Press, Ottawa.,
by Andrew Vaissius

Lea Graham, This End of the World:Notes to Robert Kroetsch, 2016, 26pp.
Marilyn Irwin, the blue, blue there, 2015, 36 pp.

The great summer sport in my neighbourhood is mowing ones lawn – over and over again. Several times a week. There arises an obnoxious thrum of internal combustion engines that drown out even the cawing of a crow in the back oak tree, which if heard, sounds far more intelligent than the engine's whine. Crow pro-vides the connection with Lea Graham's chapbook. These notes can be interpreted as not only to, but also about Kroetsch. Remember his novel, What the Crow Said, in which Vera Lang is brought to climax by a swarm of bees, and a card games erupts that goes on forever? Lights and siren go off, and to hell with manicured lawns. This is the world of tall tales and multifaceted word-stones. The taller the tail the higher the horse. This slim chapbook of notes presents the reader with the same kind of entertainment: hard to pass up being dealt in, and harder not to feel a bit diddled with. As any book by or about Kroetsch is likely to be, this chapbook riots with language and glories in how a word denotes as much as what that word denotes. “Crows valentined dumpsters” slows the reader right down with image, and doesn't forget that now we must take that black wing in hand on a stroll. Later we discover another line in “A Deviating Elegy for RK”: “The unintentional details of love deliver us.” It comes together.

The book is dense and requires a close and attentive read because Graham is onto something here – on about place and place names, and on about from where a writer writes. Kroetsch taught at Binghamton University in New York for 17 years, but he never really left the prairie.  His best writing originates from his western experience, but he was far from being provincial. Graham, like Kroetsch, nudges the reader on with sham, myth, and guffaw. Enough said simply means think about it – like the weather there's always more on the way. It is a good thing that such a worthy homage of Kroetsch comes from a non-Canadian. In an edition of 80, and very lovely.

                                    *          *          *          *          *          *

I must say that an atheist epigraph harkening what might come within the covers is a welcome change from the usual fare. We are given a profound Neil deGrasse Tyson quote about how we are make of stardust from the Big Bang. It would be even more comforting if Irwin made the necessary distinction between science and technology, but that's a quibble. The chapbook before me entitled the blue, blue there – the sea and sky? - is a handsome work from Apt. 9 Press. On the title page under the author's name is a stick and dot drawing of the constellation Pisces, the fish. In only the second poem, “one fish, two fish” the author runs to the constellation in a kind of tension, or Mobius strip, or bounces off padded cubicle walls. Irwin has an engaging sense with her imagery. In “creature, comforts” - beware of the commas in her poems -  she concludes the short poem with the words: “empties, overflowing”. Empties cannot be overflowing, except as a metaphor, or more likely here as bottles, not their contents, spilling out of the case. Irwin succeeds in making a relatively simple poem into a bit of a mystery.

In “bingo” Irwin missteps in the last line. The poem, set up cleverly, includes the bingo call of I-28 in both French and English, but for some reason to the penultimate lines “this is community/ no, this is just where we are” she appends “everybody wins.” But everybody doesn't win, especially in the poem, especially at bingo. The game is a gamble, and gambles are fraught with mostly losers and pay-offs for very few winners. Be assured that more poems succeed than trip up. Irwin writes short poems especially well. These following two are funny-true:
                                                poem for poets
                                    like when you spell
                                    first try


                                                throat clearing

                                    sometimes it's just nice to be heard

Cameron Anstee at Apt. 9 Press in Ottawa has done a superlative job in the presentation of these poets. Both volumes are stitched, and showcase an attention to detail and abiding concern for nurturing word and writer. Irwin's chapbook comes with a navy blue cover overlaid with a title strip of textured cream-coloured paper with feathered edges. On this strip the second “blue” in the title stands out in a blue tint, though a couple of shades lighter than the cover paper. The book is long and slim and a pleasure to hold. Anstee chose to design Graham's book a bit oddly, yet thoroughly attractively. It is executed with a four square patterned stitching comprising a larger fifth square. Only two thirds of the book can be spread open, but this doesn't make reading a problem since the printed material on the pages restricts itself to an easily accessed ½ page. The cover leaves are black with cream-coloured pages. These two books are similar yet distinctive publications. They are objects of beauty, and Anstee deserves recognition for their appearance as well as contents.

Friday, 10 June 2016


These things go to get her
(For Noam Chomsky) by Miriam Roberts

I don’t know who she is
but she is under the moon
and how can she be under
udder the moon
when the moon
when the moo
moon the moovable feast
moon centre of my
backwards has no
top or bottom like I was
the moo-moon and the
she go together when I
go to get her when
I’m mooning break
n of logic
thought terminal ex
the language brutes


Miriam Roberts | Moncton  NB |  2016

Monday, 6 June 2016


The rain pool
 Stevie Howell

Let’s ride on mountain
bikes to the haunted house. Empty-bellied
ppl drawn

to shadows.
Cicadas climb toward concert pitch.
Asphalt fumes

skinned knees
fresh cut grass. Love for anything gutted.
A melted toilet

hangs in strings.
Bubblegum. Porno mags strewn in rubble
a post-hoc shrine

Gum whets
appetites. So do boys. So does the sun.
Where’d they go

the family
who fled here as united in cause as cicadas.
A superfamily.

Pop quiz:
What’s worse—sunstroke or hunger?
A curfew

or latch-key?
If freedom is chaos, chaos is love.
It’s love, then.

It’s cool. We swim
in the haunted, rain-filled kidney pool
Coitus is

so funny
such a sex-ed word for it. Gobs of leaves
ghosts grabbing

our ankles
are reeds in a northern lake. No, were in
a reef,

somewhere equatorial,
schools of surgeonfish brushing by
our limbs, coral.

Harmless as
they are beautiful. You never asked
to be born.

Neither did
the oblong orbit of my mother.
Water trembling

the moon.
What we’ve found is as beautiful as
it is harmless.

Stevie Howell | Toronto  ON |  2016


L J Szafarek

killers are like pet fish
he’s abnormally attached to
she wipes his
slightly opened
a Victorian cadaver who
watches The National a Man
sbridge baritone speaks
in his absence  
in bed
the bottle of oxy rattles with the urgency of a junkie
she wonders who will rattle her tonight

LJ Szafarek | Windsor ON |  2016

Monday, 16 May 2016

THREE POEMS by Aaron Daigle


Come with your leaves, my brother,
taste bitter sea. Your words heavy
            as Bibles in my stomach.

Sunset bisects forest
like a child arranging a plate:
root-dark vegetables, meat marinated in day.

A print in your room
flirts with the forms: calligraphy,
a blush of ink, stoking
core enough to feel something

missing: hang short of climax.
We'll lie like Elijah part to part,
bodies moulding sand.

There is so much earth beneath us.

7 ways to look at the night sky when hungry

1. Sunset roasting rare
to charred, topped with onions.

2. Earth's salad dressing,
flecks of stars in oily space.
Goes down smoother that way.

3. Dark chocolate 
studded with macadamias.

4. Eat the moon. It's a wafer
that'll grow back.

5. Cream-cloud Venus,
hung out as a bug zapper,
reminds us not to leave
the oven on.

6. Clouds, marble swirl of bundt cake:
bringing to mind the Higgs potential,
when we first gained weight.
Lovely to have, isn't it?

7. Orbits stirred batter.
Fired up the kiln:
hard-crust planets
with moist hearts.
Mould grew soon.

Small Towns

Names glimpsed in passing, jade signs
half-eaten by leaves. Worn pavement
where roads turn sharp:
two ruts.

Here, gardens grow
huddled behind fences. Sunlight dusts
shoulders. His upturned hand.
They make the best preserves,
shuttered in dark mahogany.

No phonebooks.
Scraps of paper tacked to corkboard:
inked over years.
None crossed out.

Earth, peat-moist: smears
on the palm
of the hand.
Names, too, are enclosed.

Aaron Daigle | Japan |  2016