Gjesteredaktør: derek beaulieu is author of 3 books of poetry and publisher of the acclaimed small press housepress (1997-2004). A teacher in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, beaulieu's work has appeared in magazines, journals and galleries internationally. He is co-editor of the controversial, best-selling Shift & Switch: new Canadian Poetry (2005).
Below is a list of a dozen contemporary books of Canadian poetry and prose, all written in the 21st-Century. Each of these books represents an aspect of contemporary Canadian writing, from visual to narrative, from sound to politics.
Poetry is classically a tool of nation building, and Canada Post is acutely aware that the poetry is “a sequence of grifts where you move your wallet to, and then you move there too.” In Canada Post, the grift is acknowledged and expressed in miniature — it troubles its support of nation in favour of smaller gestures: the neighbourhood, the street, the home and the DMZ between your couch and your television.
Comp. wobbles on an off-kilter axis between muscular, teeth-edge declaration and the first-world anxieties of education, student loans and Ikea-produced modernism. Davies’ work collages nonsequitors and aphorisms into a tirade against self-improvement, where “If it’s not too late, I have a few questions.”
Not only are the characters of Miss Lamp strangely nameless, it is also a novel which takes place out of time and place, loosened from a direct place in history. As Ewart explains, the “geography within the book became seamless, as did the time.” As the writing of the book progressed, Ewart realized that “the world of Miss Lamp is kind of its own little episodic universe. A banana seat on a bicycle signifies time as much as a clock and a calendar. Place is alluded to in much the same way, pushing the magically-real.” The world Chris Ewart creates in Miss Lamp is one where myth and wonder collide head-on with the everyday into a technicolour community of difference.
Fake Math is a poetic engagement with both the inanity of modern language and how we parrot that diction into defining our public and private moments, where we “come in for some criticism and / all [we] get is some hauling capacity.” Fake Math moves from crunk to spunk, from the proper-noun to the step-down.
A constant knit one–purl one of knitting and knotting, Ticknor is Beckettian novel of doubt and distress. As George Ticknor scrambles to attend his friend’s dinner party, armed with a pie, his thoughts wander over a labyrinth of inferiority and contradiction: It will take me a while to get there. You will get there soon enough, Getting somewhere always involves more effort than the effort of getting there is worth.”
apostrophe is the documentation of a poetry-generating / textual mining programme designed by Kennedy and Wershler-Henry to gather sentences infinitely from the internet, every sentence beginning with “You are…” This constant address to the reader takes its place among the great catalogue poems and unravels the concept of romantic muse: “You are feeling. You are willing. You are supposed to. You are impatient to find out, you have my symphonies.”
Æthel is Mancini’s second book of poetry and his first solely dedicated to visual poetry. With Æthel, Mancini—a resident of Vancouver—dedicates his eye to the combination of letterforms into abstract patterns, which at their finest echo the organic shapes of Henry Moore sculptures. Æthel is a beautifully designed book, with an excellent use of white–space which compliment the poems’ cool design.
Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists , is a sensual magic-realist book of poetry that aligns the human sleep cycle with the life cycle of butterflies and moths. Affected by her background in dance and theatre, Rawlings’ text has a highly kinetic aspect, an awareness of the body and the breath which is unusual in such linguistically-innovative writing. Rawlings brings a vocabulary of dance and the body to her consideration of how to approach text as an active, moving site, asking “How can sound translate into text, text into movement, movement into text? How can a page act as a stage for words?”
With an unblinking eye, Sina Queyras has unraveled Virginia Woolf’s The Waves into a heart-breaking poetic suite of melancholic femininity. Lemon Hound, written in tense fragments arranged in prose blocks interrogates assumptions around the female and the feminine, the cosmopolitan and the suburban, the body and the way you look upon it.
blert is a poetic engagement with the physicality of the author’s own stutter, where “every vowel and consonant must be traversed, claimed, made audible by non-stop bodily action.” Blert moves from language’s shorelines to the pounding surf, from the languid sandbars to the towering cliff-edges – the unstable sides of falling rocks and jagged precipices.
accrete or crumble, Natalie Simpson’s first book of poetry, stares at language long enough that what remains under the wilting gaze is rhythm, sound and the accumulation of impression. Simpson turns language back upon itself: “The story begins pronounful and already lisping. / I lip you, speech sake, you slip and lather formal / a puncture slip in a screw tight lip means no.” Each poem parses our speech into new until based not on clarity but on the grinding sound of punctuation.
Thumbscrews is a ‘dirty-minded, sticky-fingered book’ which reveals language’s kinks and hang-ups, reveling in every drip, drool and bruise. The poetry in this volume gathers around sites of naughty play, allowing grammar to bind, restrain and enjoy every moment of it. Walschots’s first book of poetry is a slender, well-designed, sleek little number. Thumbscrews—in language, in design and in function—will remind you of that lovely chrome vibrator; compact, fashionable, and designed to arouse.