Sometimes I feel almost struck silent by the recent Canadian poetry titles I am sent for review. Not because they are poorly written; no they are mainly well-crafted. Not because they don’t have subject matter to entice; they usually range widely in their research interests. But often because I experience little prompting in me to say much about them at all and this irks me. I don’t just want to re-iterate content as so many “overviews” do these days; I desire to reach a place of wrought critique that encourages the reader to want to pick up the book and wrangle with it themselves. However, neither of these titles, I must admit, encouraged such an impulse. Thus I am doing a dual dance of stumbles here first. My main two stumbles were, for Rosnau, an unfortunate array of typos, including “stich” (not stitch) in the first poem, “a the needle” in the next one and, further on, “an artists speaks on the radio,” and “another form OFF loss.”
This is not pointless nitpicking. This pointing-out emerges from the anxious argh that there is no true poetry editor for this press (I have been told) and that thus the poet must find her own or do it herself and, as such, errors more readily slip in. It matters even more in poems than in other kinds of writing however, and is less excusable, given the smaller number of words. And for Weiss, it was the tendency to overwrite, again not addressed editorially. While there are uses of words like “teeth baring down” for “bearing” that could be intended, lines like “Inside such a one: /a kitchen full of longnecks she never/could make disappear” (Canadian Girl in Training) seem impossibly clumsy and other pieces are composed of too many subject/verb footfalls: “I wait/I danced/I was/I have/I will/I will not/I will stand” (Mata Hari, Crossing Over). Perhaps they would have been better constructed as prose poems. But even then, a greater tightness would buff up the shine here. It’s such a shame when one senses a piece of the finished book puzzle is missing and this mars the text as a whole.
Not that I didn’t enjoy individual poems.
What Shines in Laisha Rosnau’s Pluck: The cover of an owl swooping in on the “P” of the title is eye-drawing as is the orange on blue colours. Having recently been teaching the incantation, I appreciated the negative version of such repetitive chanting in “Accumulation” : “this too has past,our past has passed, the kids fly past, I’ll pass, thanks”. I also liked the marital conversation of “We were reasoning wildly,” “An Affront” that ends with the determination: “I will not write any more boring poems,” “Shield, Too” and “Late” with its funny, maternally angsty line, “I am desperate for something other than embroidery/and pie.” And I especially relished the Gluck echoed poem, “Migratory Paths” and the reeking of lake kids in “Strung” where Rosnau strikes an exquisite chord of pang and joy.
Echoes include: Bronwyn Wallace, Maxine Kumin, The Hours (2002), Mary Pratt’s paintings.
What Shines in Adrienne Weiss’s There Are No Solid Gold Dancers Anymore:
Weiss’s garishly designed book (apropos given the gilded-era nostalgia within) is rife with a cast of deceased queens, from Diana to Mata Hari to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Weiss is proficient at subtle forms like the couplet in “A member of the wait staff delivers a glass of ice to Oprah,” its juxtaposed lines emphasizing the variant classes, concluding with chilled, unbalanced precision: “How beautiful I felt in my/alabaster blouse….to resemble an angel guarding her hull./And in the glass, I swore I saw Oprah scull/then glide on an improvised raft of sliced lemon/a knife for an oar.” Masterful. “The Future Comes Anyway” is moving with helplessness and, of the Wizard of Oz pieces, I think “The Straw Man” (again couched partly in occasionally awkward couplets) evokes the glittering vaudevillian loneliness best, including superb auralities such as, “a ratty obelisk against a rainbow-less sky.” Further, “The Midway” and “Heads or Tails” almost satisfyingly evoke a fusion of Frank O’Hara and Philip Larkin in their sketches of doomed detrital landscapes. And the last poem, which closes with the near-title: “magnificent things that surely will come.” We can only hope this is the case. There is much talent here, undoubtedly, but it needs torquing.
Echoes include, apart from the above-mentioned: Gene Autry songs, 80s game shows, sub sandwiches loaded with everything including the olives.