Friday, December 23, 2005

Souwesto Home, by James Reaney, 2005.

Brick Books, 80 pages. ISBN 1-894078-43-8 $17.00 CDN/ $13.00 US March, 2005.
Reviewed by Jesse P. Ferguson.

From the three-time Governor General’s Award winner comes Souwesto Home, Reaney’s first book of poetry published in over ten years. After so long an interval, this collection is highly anticipated. The book is surprisingly full of youthful exuberance and wonder, which reminds us why Reaney is a celebrated writer.

Souwesto Home is a pleasure to read because Reaney, even though twice a grandfather, has not lost his child-like sense of wonder at the world or his delight in the music of words. His poetry relies heavily upon unusual syntax, rhyme, neologisms and the compounding of words. Pieces like “The Ship” abound in playful lines like: “your sail-thoughts I was & your heart-rig, / your man-rudder.” Again, in “Brushstrokes Decorating a Fan,” the language is simple yet sparkling:
I know a book that opens people
and reads them,
spreads them out pleat by pleat,
till they see as far up as up,
till they see farther far than down.
It makes so sharp their eyes
that East or West
they can spot nobody coming up the road.
Reaney reminds us that the true essence of poetry is its heightened attention to the sounds of words. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his poetry is rarely abstruse; it entertains with its music as opposed to confusing its readers with non-sequiturs and other gimmickry.

Reaney is most at home, and most successful, when he writes of the domestic and the rural. The book’s opening piece, “Domus,” builds a catalogue of domestic items in two adjacent columns. The items from each list belong with, or complement the items in the other. The sense of concord thereby established is taken up and further developed across the collection.

Sometimes Reaney’s linguistic virtuosity fails him, as in the poem “Ice Cream,” which is far too prosy. This piece in particular lacks Reaney’s distinctive wordplay, which at its best allows his poems to transcend their often banal subject matter.

Overall, Souwesto Home delivers an enjoyable read. Many young writers would do well to take note of Reaney’s style and learn from him that poetry can be accessible and fun, while at the same time it can speak to us at deeper levels.

This review first appeared in the December issue of the Dusty Owl Quarterly, Ottawa.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Norman Drive: A University of Ottawa Class Anthology

Norman Drive is the tenth in the series of University of Ottawa Department of English class anthologies began by Friday Circle in 1993, publishing the poetry of graduates of Seymour Mayne’s quasi annual poetry workshops (ENG 3264).

The anthology features the class of 2004/2005: Simon Bradshaw, Rhonda Douglas, Jesse Ferguson, Jeff Fry, Christine Hakim, Teresa Jewell, John Kelly, Nicholas Lea, Jennifer Leap, Seymour Mayne, Wanda O’Connor and Tree Renaud.

Simon Bradshaw’s metro platform is minimalist and invokes a single moment of travellers waiting for the train, through the use of sight and sound. From the ordinary, he constructs a bit of magic: “we are strange acrobats/about to leap.”

In Mom at 50, Bradshaw’s juxtapositions are original and unusual: “the suspicious marigold of stars” and “the snow globing in your brain.” The words are mostly Germanic with a bit of Latin thrown in, highly concrete, with some analysis on what it might be like to be fifty from a young person’s point of view: “the only rushes/at this age/are the dizzy spells.”

Rhonda Douglas uses metaphor in Oats, her mature poem about sowing wild oats and yearning for one’s youth. The poem is straight-forward narrative with fairly simple language.

Love in Late Summer is another in a series of poems Douglas has written about paintings. This one is about Christopher Pratt’s painting of the same name: The poem successfully renders the sights and sounds of late summer and tells a story about what the painting might evoke.

Jesse Fergusons saucy but unexpectedly deep Glengarry Highland Games is a narrative poem, which effectively conjures up the scene of the Games. He avoids cliché successfully by using the verb “to hold” in an original and metaphorical way. There’s an elegant simplicity to this poem, with its specific Scottish jargon mixed with every day language.

Whitetail is an image poem depicting the moment where a deer collides with a vehicle and the nightmares that follow. The language is stark white, mostly monosyllabic with the occasional multi syllable word to represent the deer’s faltering steps and the collision. This is a poem to be read aloud; it’s almost iambic. The ending opens up the poem to the reader’s imagination in a Heart of Darkness kind of way: “he can’t help hearing/the wilderness listen in.”

Nicholas Lea’s travel plans is a visual and minimalist piece that is also ironic: “smoking like it was a cure for cancer.” norman drive, the title track so to speak, is one small moment with crisp diction and strong visuals. at the lookout is also a spare and visually evocative poem.

Seymour Mayne’s word sonnets are minimal, disciplined and provocative pieces. Praise is a spiritual rendering in confined space. Overheard At The Barber is like a maxim, an amusing, yet wistful comment on the encroachment of old age. Reader is an intimate rhetorical question.

Wanda O’Connor’s After Femina is a clever and beautiful piece which adeptly combines the abstract and the concrete, much like Marlatt, in fact: “And the jar keeps you precisely, from wind and fire,/ the flexibilities of love, the comfort of an ocean//and the cleave of its longing.” There’s a well-schooled precision in the vocabulary of this poem.

Tree Renaud’s poems are powerful with strong cadence, diction and imagery. The Windows Were Bare is almost ballad-like in its structure, with an intensity that lingers well after the poem is done.

Norman Drive is well designed by classmate and fellow contributor, Jennifer Leap. I wonder if poet Peter Norman knows there’s a whole drive named after him.

The anthology is available through the on line store:
For other Friday Circle publications, you can visit the Friday Circle site:

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Role of Poets in Politics

In case you've been living under a rock, I'd like to inform you that the country is currently in the midst of a federal election campaign.

Before you stumble out of your armchair in shock, try to maintain a firm grip on your beverage and listen for a moment. I know that there's been not a whole lot said about the campaign so far. There was a great hullabaloo around the time the election was called, and since then things have been relatively quiet (at least as far as campaigns go). This is because you, wisely, are more concerned with office Christmas parties and picking up the latest Xbox for your kid that with whatever policy statement the Party Leader Of The Day is pronouncing from a podium at some rubber chicken luncheon in The Pas. However, be forewarned that shortly after New Year's Day you will be subjected to a steady onslaught of negative campaigning as well as furious attempts from the parties to secure your vote on Election Day.

By the way, that's January 23. Try not to break your neck on the ice that day and get to the polls.

As a poet, and more importantly as a keen student of history, election campaigns are fascinating to me. I know, that probably makes me That Weirdo you remember from high school, talking about policy in reverent terms (as if intimate knowledge of the Liberal position on climate change will help secure a date with the hottest woman in the class). But I'm stoked. Sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable. I've had scorn heaped on me before. Fire away if you must.

But this is a seriously strange time in the country's political evolution. Minority government is the order of the decade as Parliament remains splintered, and no party appears strong enough to command the confidence of the House on their own. With the longest election period in years and a large dose of instability, just about anything could happen.

And I am about to find myself in the thick of it all. I will be working on the campaign of Alexa McDonough for the duration of the campaign. As an artist, this will provide me with an unbelievable amount of material for all kinds of poetry. As a citizen, it gives me a front-row seat on how the political process really works. And as a working person, it provides me with a new experience that will fundamentally alter the way I approach employment. I'm sure of all of this.

In the meantime, I encourage all of you to check in frequently on my Ruminations blog to keep up-to-date on what I'm doing. I'm also hopeful that my Halifax excursion will prove fruitful from a creative standpoint, and that much poetry will be available for you when I get back.

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your holidays ... read my blog ... and see you next year!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Peter F. Yacht Club Christmas Party

The Peter F. Yacht Club & span-o present:

The Peter F. Yacht Club Christmas Party

with (brief) readings of poetry
by Nicholas Lea, Jesse Ferguson, Jennifer Mulligan + Max Middle (if he shows up)
& a small little (new) publication of sorts
(but mostly just hanging around & drinking/yelling)

Saturday December 17, 2005
The Carleton Tavern (upstairs), Parkdale Market (at Armstrong)
from 7:30pm until forever /
hosted by your lovable captains, rob mclennan & Clare Latremouille

author bios:

Jesse Ferguson is a fourth year English Literature major at the University of Ottawa. His work has appeared in the University of Ottawa magazines Nexus, Innuendo and Yawp. He has also contributed to Canadian, American and UK publications, such as: Yalla, Redfez, Ygdrasil, Stridemagazine, Spire, High Altitude Poetry, The Big Tex[t] , Magazineshiver, Spillway Review and Word Riot. He selects for Yawp and Bywords, and has selected for Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine. There is a photograph of him looking thoughtful here.

Nicholas Lea is a writer and a person who lives in Ottawa, but is not from Ottawa, so he will likely move away from Ottawa one day because he feels no deep-seated, spiritual connection to Ottawa (although, he likes it very much; better than, say, Montreal). He is disappointed with most coffee.

Max Middle is a freedom loving anarchist. He is also a broccoli consumer & founding member of the music, sound, poetry & performance experiment known as the Max Middle Sound Project. The latter has staged five feature performances since their debut at the 2004 Ottawa Fringe Festival, including one in spring 2005 at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, & his own work recently appeared in the anthology Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (The Mercury Press, 2005). More about him can be gleaned online, & an interview along with some poems appear in the first issue of ottawater .

Jennifer Mulligan does most of her living in the Ottawa area. From time to time, she also thinks she's a painter and a publisher. Her highly abstract and technical day job affords her the luxury of giving support to the Ottawa literary community, where she helped run The TREE Reading Series until very recently, and co-edited the twenty-fifth anniversary TREE anthology, Twenty-Five Years of Tree (BuschekBooks, 2005). She started writing in January 2005 while watching CBC Sunday. Previously, her poetry appeared in The Peter F. Yacht Club, and Yawp, and are forthcoming in the anthology Collected Sex (Chaudiere Books, 2007), as well as the second issue of ottawater, due out in January.