21 August 2015

Written by Andrew McEwan
Published by Jackpine Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$15.00 ISBN 978-1-927035-17-7

Vancouverite Andrew McEwan’s Conditional, a saddle-stitched chapbook, contains two alternately playful and serious poems, or meditations. The first, “Spreading Sheets,” takes inspiration from a quote about stratus clouds, derived from an 1803 text called Essay on the Modification of Clouds (by Luke Howard). In the resulting text-which alternatingly appears on symbolically transparent vellum pages in a free verse style and on gray cotton pages in prose poem blocks-the poet asks “what is this fog?”

Fog, here, is up for interpretation. The author alludes to Vancouver’s “visibility issues,” and hovering mainland\mists,” to condensation from the bathroom mirror,” and perhaps also to the fog of human thought as we wait in queues, “cannot see the object of our mourning,” and listen to financial and real estate market forecasts.

Or perhaps it is none of these. McEwan keeps us entertained and guessing with disparate thoughts. “Of the animals seen today only the blanket of crows migrating past reads as symbolic,” he writes. And in the next two lines: “A rezoning is in progress. Everything is on sale except for the waterproof outerwear.”

This first poem registers contemporary social chaos like sound-bites, includes domestic and writerly habits (“In bed for days at a time, turning dictionary pages”), and makes us think: “Routines test forgery as a method for coping with absence.”

The second poem, “Return Policy,” is written in couplets interspersed with retail instructions, ie: “Any purchase made by debit card\will be refunded to the original debit card.”

I like this idea of found poetry: of taking the phrases we hear or read so often we don’t ordinarily give them another thought (unless we need to, say, return an appliance). It is akin to the modern art installation: it’s the bringing together of disparate elements to create something new that warrants admiration.

Irony is a key element in this hand-sized, limited-edition (only 75 copies) chapbook published by Saskatchewan’s Jackpine Press. “As far as the eye can see the eye overlooks,” McEwan writes. “Proximity counterfeits acquaintance.” I particularly enjoyed this statement: “We knew the rules starting out, but forgot\the implications.”

McEwan has much to say in this small book, and I expect we’ll be hearing more from him. Aside from Conditional, he’s also authored repeater (a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award), and the chapbooks Input / Output and This Book Is Depressing.

To learn more about this and Jackpine’s many other unique chapbooks, see


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