Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road
Thistledown Press / 22 June 2018

Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road Written by Brenda Schmidt Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-154-9 How interesting to watch a poet’s repertoire grow and change over the years, and learn what’s freshly inspiring him or her. For some it’s nature, a new relationship, travel, or a loved one’s passing. Trust Creighton, SK poet, visual artist, and naturalist Brenda Schmidt to eschew the usual … this SK Poet Laureate has turned to the lowly culvert for inspiration in her latest title, Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road, and it’s a romp. This handsome collection begins with a short essay that introduces us to the kind of writer Schmidt’s become. While she and her husband are driving down the Saskatchewan map, the poet blurts out questions some may consider inane. But, she writes: “Nothing I say surprises him anymore. He knows better than anyone how difficult writers can be to travel with, due in part, perhaps, to sensory overload, all these places flying by, all these junctions, private roads and keep-out signs, the mind filtering the 100 km/hr stream of information for connections …”. Indeed, connections are key in this book. Always fascinated with culverts, Schmidt’s mined…

House of Charlemagne, The
University of Regina Press / 20 April 2018

The House of Charlemagne by Tim Lilburn Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-530-5 Years ago I lived a block from poet and essayist Tim Lilburn in Saskatoon’s leafy City Park area, and it’s been wonderful to watch his literary star rise. He’s earned the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and is the first Canadian to win the European Medal of Poetry and Art. Like Lilburn, I also now live on Vancouver Island, and was excited to discover what my former nearly-neighbour has been (literarily) up to. Not surprisingly, his latest title – a collaboration with Métis artist Ed Poitras – breaks new ground. Part poetry, part essay, part script, The House of Charlemagne is a brilliantly conceived and executed “performable poem,” and an homage to Louis Riel’s imagined “House of Charlemagne,” named for the “polyglot Métis nation” Riel imagined rising centuries after his death. It was produced with male and female dancers by New Dance Horizons/Rouge-gorge in Regina (2015), and the book includes two black and white production photos. The bizarre and poetic story unfolds via multiple voices and shapes, but the key player is Honoré Jaxon (aka William Henry Jackson), a…

Assortment, An: Darkly Delicious Literary and Visual Oddments
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 8 December 2017

An Assortment: Darkly Delicious Literary & Visual Oddments by Marie Elyse St. George Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-83-6 The enticing title of Marie Elyse St. George’s latest book says it all. Delve into this tickle trunk of poems, stories (both fictions and truths), drawings, paintings, and cartoons, plus a tribute to now long-passed writer Anne Szumigalski, and you’ll indeed find something darkly delicious to make you smile, laugh, and think. Saskatoon’s St. George has earned an esteemed reputation as both a visual artist and a writer, and a career highlight’s been her 1995 poetry and art collaboration (with close friend Szumigalski) Voice, which resulted in both an exhibition at the Mendel Art Gallery and a book which garnered the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1995. She’s also collaborated with poet Patrick Lane, provided art for the covers of numerous literary journals and books, and published an award-winning memoir. While reading An Assortment: Darkly Delicious Literary & Visual Oddments, I procured an image of a young girl skipping through a field of wildflowers, plucking blossoms here and there for an atypical bouquet. This image was no doubt hastened by the book’s…

Decoys
Thistledown Press / 26 October 2017

Decoys Written by William Robertson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-150-1 In Decoys, the new poetry collection by William Robertson, the long-time Saskatoon scribe plumbs his own history and threads personal anecdotes into a textured fabric that reflects the prairie from what might be considered a bird’s eye view. In the country, kids push a puck around on ice “rippled/frozen by the wind,” and at Gull Lake we see “the grass in all its greens,/that bull, sequestered from the rest”. Birds are carefully considered and rendered poetic in myriad unique ways, ie: “Ruffled grouse leads its perfect/rusty brown and black fan/out of the spruce, through the ditch,” and in “Raven on Frozen River,” the poet beautifully writes “I could spend all day/watching you divide/snowy silence/from itself”. The author’s urgency to “hold onto things beautiful” is apparent, page after page. There’s a reverence for the rural, here, including lakes, and the Muenster area, with its amicable chickadees at St. Peter’s Abbey, where Robertson penned some of these poems at Saskatchewan Writers Guild artist retreats, but the city is also carefully considered – and sometimes found lacking – “Outside the rickety/red fence, unpainted for years, the…

Beethoven
Burton House Books / 25 August 2017

Beethoven by Jim McLean published by Burton House Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866929 Moose Jaw’s Jim McLean is all over the place – in a good way. He wrote about the CPR in his first book, Secret Life of Railroaders; about growing up in Saskatchewan in Nineteen Fifty-Seven; and he co-authored Wildflowers Across the Prairies. Now he’s turned his poetic attention to that singular composer, Beethoven. Indeed, Beethoven is the title of McLean’s third solo publication in an over thirty-year span; surely a distinguished career with Canadian Pacific Railway and Transport Canada had much to do with the lapses between books. Beethoven is a lively collection of poems presented in several invented voices, including the composer’s, the voices of the women in his life – though he’s a “poor incompetent/Don Juan“- and that of Beethoven’s tyrannical father, but one of the strongest pieces, “On His Deafness,” concerns an anecdote about McLean’s own aging father, whom the poet is trying to impress with garden “Brussels sprouts/big as fists tenderly/coaxed from the hard/prairie earth” and a well-heeled garage. Silent and apparently nonplussed, the elder man walks away, “humming softly to himself/off key …” This clever merging of disparate…

Muskrat Ramble
DriverWorks Ink / 21 July 2017

Muskrat Ramble by William Wardill Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.99 ISBN 978-1-927570-34-0 Eatonia’s William Wardill has been writing stories and poems for decades, and now the veteran historian, writer, diviner, and small-town Saskatchewan aficionado has penned his “swan song” collection of poetry, Muskrat Ramble, which includes previously published work, photographs, and, interestingly, brief, conversational-style introductions to many of the poems. The “almost autobiographical” and fictional poems (with “roots in reality”) are straightforward narrative tributes to people, places, and pre-Facebook ways of life long behind us now. Readers will appreciate the poems’ preambles: reading them is akin to hearing a writer present his or her work at a public reading. Many readers (including yours truly) will also appreciate the larger-than-usual print. Wardill has lived a rich life across his nine decades. He stretches back to his boyhood re: acknowledgement of an Alsask teacher for helping him to realize “that a little boy who liked to arrange words in patterns, paint pictures, and sing songs could be as useful in the world as the little boy who excelled in athletic competitions.” At the other end of his life, in a poem titled “Homo Emeritus,” he reflects that…

Cloud Physics

Cloud Physics by Karen Enns Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-774612 She had me at “peonies of sound”. She is Karen Enns, and the opening piece -and title poem – of her new poetry collection Cloud Physics, is refined and thoughtful, and it makes me ravenous for more. A few poems in the first section have a dystopian edge, ie: in “Epilogue,” “Nothing was questioned/after the last polar flares broke through,/and silence finally took over.” Enns, however, never slips into melodrama, and often her pieces conclude quietly (yet profoundly). The aforementioned poem ends thus: “It was warm for a while/after the birds migrated east/in a single line.” Yes! I love the poet’s use of understatement throughout the book, and her use of what I’ll call “imaginings”. She (or her subjects) ponder interesting “What if?” questions, ie: What if time worked in the opposite direction, “so we could live our lives from death to birth”? What would it be like to “bi-selve”? What if “middle syllables/were lost,” and what if we are “made of what [we’ve] heard”? This last quote is from the list poem, “Ad Libitum,” which concerns the diverse sounds that…

nipê wânîn
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

nipê wânîn: my way back by Mika Lafond Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-129-7 In her first poetry collection, nipê wânîn: my way back, Saskatoon writer and U of S educator Mika Lafond pays homage to her Cree heritage, the landscape that nurtured her as a child, and various family members-with particular gratitude expressed for grandmothers and great grandmothers-in heartfelt and easy-to-read poems presented in both English and Cree. As the book’s title suggests, the poems tell a story of a woman’s “way back” to the lessons her ancestors taught to her in their quiet ways. Lafond writes: “Words are spoken in hushed voices/their sacredness not to be shouted.” Lafond’s a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and, with a strong interest in education and the arts, Lafond and her cousin (Joi Arcand) initiated Kimiwan Zine as a venue for Indigenous visual artists and writers. A few of the poems in this book hint at some of the heart-breaking situations she’s faced as a teacher and the difficult business of “[getting] through the walls” adolescent male students sometimes put up. One student is “always tired on cheque day” and though “winter is definitely here…

Fabric of Day, The
Thistledown Press / 5 June 2017

The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Anne Campbell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-130-3 I do love “New and Selected” poetry collections, and so it was with delight that I opened The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Regina’s Anne Campbell, who has been making poetry and sharing it with appreciative readers since her first book, No Memory of a Move, was released in 1983. In a retrospective such as this readers can track a poet’s evolution, and I was interested to read the new work: what’s in Campbell’s poetic gaze now? In the book’s introduction Campbell explains that the prairies and “time” have been her major concentrations across the decades. In the newest poems I see that the trials of aging – the poet was born in 1938 – are also receiving attention on the page, and always, there is the undertone of love that’s missed, or love that might have been. In the poem “Retiring, Gone Missing,” she writes “It’s a puzzle at this late stage, a nuisance,/really, feeling the self, one used to be/ gone” and later in this poem, “it’s odd/being with the stranger I…

Glad I Dropped In
Benchmark Press / 18 January 2017

Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore by June Mitchell Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $20.00 ISBN 978-1-927352-27-4 Anyone looking for the pure pleasure of getting lost in a good book need look no further than June Mitchell’s Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore, a memoir sure to evoke both laughter and tears. June, or Junie as she refers to herself in the early portion of the book, tells her life story as she recalls it. In those earlier sections where she has no recollection, she narrates as an outside observer, based on what she heard from others. June inherits her socialist leanings from her parents. Her mother, Marjorie Cooper, becomes the third female Member of the Saskatchewan Legislature, serving four terms for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. June’s father, Edward Cooper, is a high school teacher and fellow member of the CCF. June also develops her social activism from her Aunt Luella. When she witnesses a man dragging a woman down the street, Luella calls police, who ignore her. She then adds that her father has just left the house with a hammer; the police respond immediately. June…