Sumac’s Red Arms
Coteau Books / 30 September 2009

Sumac’s Red Arms by Karen Shklanka Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-402-6 Must one live an interesting life in order to write interesting poetry? I would argue that no, this is not a requirement, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The Vancouver poet, family physician, world traveler, and flamenco dancer, Karen Shklanka, draws from her own rich experience and has much to tell in her first book of poetry, Sumac’s Red Arms. She sets many of her often surprising poems against the various locales she’s called home: Moose Factory, Ontario; Sydney, Australia; Los Angeles; Houston; Salt Spring Island; and Regina. The first poems reveal scenarios from the poet’s medical work in a northern Ontario community. We meet “James,” who “woke bleeding on a battlefield of empties\and limp friends” and has “been sitting all morning with a gun to his head”. And we’re introduced to “The Girl From Attawapiskat”: “She spits on me as they wheel her out on the stretcher”. These are no-nonsense anecdotes, and Shklanka adopts a journalistic style to convey them, thus ensuring that sentimentality does not cloud the telling. In the book’s radically different second section, “The Scent of Cloves,” readers are…