TITLE: DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD
Author: Johanna Skibsrud
Publisher: Wolsak & Wynn (a Buckrider Book)
Pgs: 88 pp
Reviewer: Candice James
Johanna Skibsrud’s mastery of word and mood takes us breathlessly up the slippery slope of imagination to the pinnacle of the invisible surreal and then down the yellow brick road where dreams are born. As we drift through the pages we become the dream and the reality that is not the dream or reality where what isn’t is. What a trip indeed. If this book were a ship, it would be the voyage of a lifetime.
“Brief Sketches on an Open Field” is a stretch limo expansion of the mind focusing the reader on things as they are not: “Trees take shape on the horizon / not as what they are, but against / what they are not. The finality toward which all beginnings are driven is beautifully sculpted in these lines in “They Will Take My Island”: ‘I will climb to the highest point – wait for the water to rise // For the lights of the fishermen to blink out, one by one, like stars – / long after the fishermen have all been drowned.// Then, I,
too, will be slowly dismantled.’ As shall we all Johanna. As shall we all.
The genius of Skibsrud’s futuristic ethereal mindset is best displayed in the title poem “The Description of the World”. These lines set the tone and essence of love as an unfathomable pattern we can follow to its final destiny: ‘Like language, love is the desire not to be a simple illustration, / but instead – // and continuously – a “starting out” across distances that have not / yet been, and may never be drawn.’
“Whitewater Draw”: – Lines that made me stop and read them over again a couple of times because they were so “really there” in this poem: ‘’When I looked, everything seemed to blink in and out of focus, as / if I was examing a dream I was having about birds, where birds / stood in or something more complex, impossible to define.’ Skibsrud never ceases to amaze and hold court with her synaptic photographs spilled onto paper.
In the poem “Sunrise with Sea Monsters”, we are left in utter awe to wonder at the possibilities of impossibilities and the impossibilities of possibilities: ‘Even now, we must wonder: what is escaping, / what has always escaped? //That groping, wild thing: a spirit one can’t master, / a river one can’t step into, a ship on the horizon / one can never quite discern… // A letter. Posted to no one. Carried on an invisible ship, / to an un-arrivable shore…// A silence in that letter: what will always remain / unspoken. Between two people who have never / actually communicated… I am still playing tennis to continuous
deuce in my mind trying to decipher the never-ending realms and dimensions this poem presents.
Johanna Skibsrud is a spacious writer of grand poetic expanse and “The Description of the World” is a landscape of luxurious language and magnificent mood. This is a book that stands head and shoulders above most books. Kudos to Skibsrud!
About the Author: Johanna Skibsrud was born in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, in 1980. She received her BA in English from the University of Toronto, and her MA in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University in Montreal. She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Montreal in 2012 with a dissertation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens. In the same year she was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant in order to complete her postdoctoral book project, The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics. Johanna is also the author of two novels
–Quartet for the End of time (2014), and the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning novel, The Sentimentalists – a book of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories, and two collections of poetry, I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being and Late Nights With Wild Cowboys. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. She and her family (husband, John – a musician and professor of poetry – and daughter, Olive) divide their time between Tucson and St. Joseph du Moine, Cape Breton.
About the Reviewer:
Candice James is a poet, musician, visual artist, singer songwriter. She was Poet Laureate of New Westminster, BC for two 3 year terms 2010-2016. and awarded the title of Poet Laureate Emerita in November 2016 by the City. She is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; and author of thirteen poetry books: the first A Split In The Water” (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent are “The Water Poems” (Ekstasis Editions 2017). She is the recipient of the Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award and also the recipient of Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award. Further info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/candice_james and
TITLE: THE DIRTY KNEES OF PRAYER
AUTHOR: Timothy Shay
PUBLISHER: Caitlin Press
PGS: 99 pgs
REVIEWER Candice James
Dark and sultry like coveted shade under a blistering sun, this is the flavor of the poems stuck between the covers of this book. The opening Journal Entry from Shay’s mother in 1957 gives the reader a window into the poet’s soul at five years old:
“Timmy wept this morning because the flowers are dead. A heavy frost came last night and froze them.”
This tender side of Shay surreptitiously sneaks and peeks through the squalid corners of his darker poems sporadically and many time unexpectedly, succeeding in enhancing and confusing in a potpourri of words, images and emotions.
Shay’s powers of description are vibrant and vivid as evidenced in “Bait”:
“a puzzling day made of many bits of poems, / crumbs of light, discarded castaways /
of a retired feast flickering Chinese lanterns”
“Beside Me” is a deeply romantic, poignant work of poetic art and quite possibly one of the best love poems I have ever read. Kudos to Shay for his poetic ability to walk the tightrope of desire and fall into the jaws of despair only to bounce back into the arms of love unscathed.
I really enjoyed the little pieces of dialogue in “Summer Camp”. The moments of clarity that poke their way through memory loss and confusion are so aptly and succinctly brought to the fore in a comedic yet humourless way:
Stanza 2: “My mother with her dementia / in a moment of great clarity mumbles /
‘This is pretty boring’.”
Stanza 4: “After mumbling disjointedly / for some minutes she says clearly /
‘Even if there’s just one good story / I’ve got to tell it’.”
The stanza and particularly the last two lines in “Taking Air” are thought provoking and captivating indeed:
“No one returns to the empty chair. / The shadow there appears to give speeches.”
Shay’s ability to surprise, capture and mesmerize never cease to amaze throughout this book. In “Niagara” he plumbs the depths of love, and impersonification in perfect surreal harmony:
Stanza 4: “If I could be a waterfall / I would sing your name religiously /
look away from your eyes / the lead singer in an autistic choir.”
“Records”, the poem the dedicated to his daughter is filled with emotion and vivid imagery:
“The beach yields visions and secrets / my child’s eyes pinned /
like butterflies to the collection / of rolling sky.”
The journey I travelled while winding through the pages of this book was one well worth taking and some of the passages will remain indelibly etched in my memory.
About the Author: Timothy Shay, born in Hamilton, Ontario, is a well known figure on the literary scene in Vancouver. He is the author of 2 poetry books and five chapbooks. Timothy hosts the monthly Hogan’s Alley Poetry Readings, and he is also the former editor of Horsefly Literary Magazine. His work has appeared in various Canadian literary magazines and anthologies, CBC Radio, The Rolling Stone; and in the anthology Alive at the Centre, contemporary poems from the pacific northwest (Ooligan Press 2013); and in the 2011 issue of Qwerty from the University of New Brunswick.
About the Reviewer: Candice James recently completed 2 three year terms (2010-2016) as Poet Laureate of New Westminster, BC and has been appointed Poet Laureate Emerita of New Westminster, BC. She is Board Advisor to Royal City Literary Arts Society; Director Pacific Festival of the Book. She is author of twelve poetry books published by five different publishing houses: the first A Split In The Water” (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent is “City of Dreams – the New Westminster Poems” (Silver Bow Publishing). Some of her many awards include: Bernie Legge Artist Cultural award; Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award.
TITLE: THE LARGENESS OF RESCUE
AUTHOR: Eva Tihanyi
PUBLISHER: Inanna Publications
DATE: April 2016
REVIEWER: Candice James
It is extremely difficult indeed to find words strong enough to describe the wonderful offering of powerful poetry presented in this book “The Largeness of Rescue” by Eva Tihanyi. I fell under her spell from the beginning and was more mesmerized with each turn of the page. Elegant, haunting and beautiful, there is an echoing heartbeat behind every word
“Psychic Readings” is a poem of nostalgia and conquest. Recalling early days into middle age: ‘If you line up all the places/ where you’ve lived, you will see/ a map of your life.’ Then there is the realization, as challenges present themselves, just how close the fear of failure is to the fear of success: ‘Although heights terrify you,/ you will climb a great tree./ The view will change you/ but you will be stranded,/ unable to come down./ Your greatest hope/ will be rescue./Your greatest fear/ will be rescue also.’ Tihanyi eloquently states the unobvious obvious, the unconscious conscious: we are always able to rescue ourselves, whether we choose to or not.
“Eliot Simultaneously” is an imaginative poem placing T.S. Eliot in a myriad of scenes starting off with the lines ‘Imagine T. S. Eliot walking west on Bloor toward Bay,/ his serious eyes/ hat-shielded from the late afternoon sun,/ the autumnal city/ treacherous around him, the banker poet/ in his waistcoat and newly polished shoes.’ Through her misty lens, Tihanyi allows us to view Eliot in the year 1926 in his Rome days, gin days, and his wife’s madness into his quirkiness and disillusionment with the world as it is and isn’t; and his relentless pursuit of the creative force and embrace of the written word. Always a slave to his writing ‘The world-weary words shoved/ into the closet of irrelevance,/turning and returning in their boxy darkness./ Yet he perseveres: with spoon after spoon stirs the days,/ throws down his glove, hoists the pen.’ I was extremely take with this poem and the wielding of Tehanyi’s pen, so reminiscent of the great T.S Eliot himself.
In the poem “Border Magic” I liked the intangible imagery and oppositions presented: ‘The space between reason/ and the vagaries of love.’; but found myself looking unsuccessfully for an ending or something akin to a finish. Nevertheless, the poem did please. “Where the Year Takes Us” turns the mundane passage of time into a mystical chant: “There is nothing but the passing,/ time trapped in melancholy squares/ on calendar pages torn off one by one”. Sometimes life can make us feel so desolate that ‘trapped in melancholy calendar squares’ is the only way to truly describe the separation from self and others. With the clever turn of a phrase and the impact of brevity Tehanyi’s “On the Other Side” allows us to glimpse what we, in essence, can never glimpse in this one-sided reality we all live in.
“What It Is” is quite possibly my favourite poem in the book. I found myself reading this poem over and over again trying to find “the best” couple of lines in the poem. It proved to be an impossible task. Every line in the poem is gold and the ending is absolutely stellar ‘It is destiny’s calligraphy drawn by angels./ the unconsummated stranger in all of us.’; and as A.E. Houseman once said so wistfully ‘And oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true’.
The vivid images painted in “Sea Silk” stand out in sparkling glory in the beginning stanza ‘Delicate as a spider’s web, byssus,/ fabric of pharaohs and emperors,/ shimmers in the sun like gold.’ Tihanyi’s ability to open our mind’s eye to new horizons of vibrant and glowing colour is truly amazing.
The poem “You Ask” is a brilliant and illuminating work of literary art following art from its inception throughout the ages encompassing a powerful description of poetry: ‘each word ignites like a tiny sun/ and light changes everything.’ This hauntingly beautiful poem is a perfect ending to this scintillating collection of poetry.
Tihanyi’s superlative command of language and the sequined shimmer of her vivid imagery paint a masterpiece of words on a satin tapestry of emotion. She has the ability to lasso emotions with the filaments of her mind and dissolve them in the fire of her eloquence as she burns them into poetic verse page after page after page. She wields her pen like Van Gogh wielded his brush. This is the real thing!
About the Poet: Eva Tihanyi was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1956 and came to Canada at the age of six. She has taught at Niagara College since 1989, and currently divides her time between Toronto and Port Dalhousie (St. Catharines). Tihanyi has published eight books of poetry and one short story collection, ‘Truth and Other Fictions’ (Inanna, 2009), which The Globe and Mail hailed as “an impressive and promising debut…a wonderfully written collection of takes on the elusiveness of truth. Tihanyi is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets. Her work has appeared in over 40 periodicals and in numerous anthologies.
About the Reviewer: Candice James is in her 2nd three year term as Poet Laureate of New Westminster, She is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; a full member of League Canadian Poets; and author of eleven poetry books: the first A Split In The Water” (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent are “Merging Dimensions” (Ekstasis Editions 2015). She was awarded the prestigious Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award 2015 and also the recipient of Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award 2015. Further Info at: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice James and www.candicejames.com
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