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…

Long Walk, The
University of Regina Press / 9 November 2016

The Long Walk by Jan Zwicky Published by University of Regina Press Review by Cassidy McFadzean $19.95 ISBN 9780889774490 Jan Zwicky, the Governor General’s award-winning author of more than a dozen books of poetry and non-fiction, returns with a new poetry collection, The Long Walk. Zwicky has released titles with such celebrated publishers as Brick Books and Gaspereau Press, and The Long Walk marks her debut with the University of Regina Press – the first poetry release of its Oskana Poetry & Poetics imprint. The Long Walk is a wide-ranging collection that addresses environmental devastation and the ongoing refugee crisis alongside responses to Brahms and Simplikios. The diverse poems of the book’s four sections are unified by the motif of walking as a means of bearing witness to the world. “What will you do, / now that you sense the path is unraveling / beneath you?” the speaker asks of her own heart in the opening poem, “Courage.” The poem is as much a plea for the poet to have courage in delving into the difficult subject matter to follow as it is for the reader, and she instructs us to “step closer to the edge.” For Zwicky, bearing witness…

Line Dance
Burton House Books / 4 November 2016

Line Dance An anthology of poetry, selected and edited by Gerald Hill published by Burton House Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866912 Before I say anything else about Line Dance – the cool new poetry anthology driven by SK Poet Laureate Gerald Hill’s “First Lines” project – a disclaimer: two lines from one of my poems appear within it. Apart from that, I had zilch to do with this book that handily demonstrates the wealth of poetic voices in the homeland, the range of human imagination, and how art inspires art. Each weekday during Poetry Month in April, Hill e-mailed SK Writers’ Guild members a pair of first lines he’d selected from SK poetry books and invited folks to respond with poems of their own. Some, like professionals Brenda Schmidt and Ed Willett, sent poems every day. In the end, almost 500 pieces were submitted, and SK writing veteran-turned publisher, Byrna Barclay, bound what editor Hill deemed the best into a handsome package, featuring Saskatchewanian David Thauberger’s art on the cover. If you already read homegrown poetry, you’ll recognize several names here. The quoted include Dave Margoshes, Judith Krause, Paul Wilson, Gary Hyland, Elizabeth Philips, Bruce Rice,…

Ceremony of Touching
Coteau Books / 5 October 2016

Ceremony of Touching by Karen Shklanka Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506679 It’s gratifying to possess some knowledge of where, both literally and metaphorically, a poet is writing from. The first piece in BC poet/doctor/dancer Karen Shklanka’s second book of poetry – which originated as her master’s thesis – is a touchstone. It introduces us to “the wounded soul of a doctor” who finds repose on Salt Spring Island among the “scent of salted forest, wrap of humidity/from logs returning to earth, and reassurance/from thickets of salal flowers cupped in prayer.” It’s a strong, unique, and elemental premise. In many ways I feel this seven-sectioned book is not unlike one long prayer, or at least a meditation: upon one’s profession, personal relationships, nature and human nature, how “everything is connected,” and upon the atrocity of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The section that recounts the historical event (from a fictional tailgunner’s perspective; I’m thankful for the poet’s extensive notes on the poems) is titled “Flight Log,” and it’s no small deal that it was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. More interesting to me, however, are the numerous poems in which one can almost…

Shaping a World Already Made
University of Regina Press / 24 August 2016

Shaping a World Already Made: Landscape and Poetry of the Canadian Prairies By Carl J. Tracie Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $27.95 ISBN 9-780889-773936 The respectful and sweeping premise for Shaping A World Already Made – the brainchild of author/cultural geographer Carl J. Tracie – is to “make meaningful observations about the interconnected themes of poetry, landscape, perception, paradox, and mystery on the [Canadian] prairies.” In his examination of the poetry of place, Tracie seeks to view the prairie landscape “through the lens of poetry,” and asks how the physical elements impact on poets and their work, and how their representation of the landscape influences readers’ (“residents and outsiders”) vision of this land. A self-professed fan of poetry, rather than a poet himself, Tracie analyzed the work of nine “prairie” poets (they might not currently live on the prairies, but their work demonstrates “a long attachment” to it), including Di Brandt, Lorna Crozier, John Newlove, Tim Lilburn, and Eli Mandel, and found commonalities and differences in their subjects, sentiments, and styles. He also refers to the work of a number of Indigenous poets, including Louise Halfe and Marilyn Dumont. Why would a cultural geographer…

Burning In This Midnight Dream
Coteau Books / 19 August 2016

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 9781550506655 Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe is a book of poetry contrasted by photographs, centered around the Truth and Reconciliation process. In her preamble, Halfe states that the book is intended to “share more of that truth. Think of all the children, and weep. Children fed to pedophile priests and nuns. Children whipped and starved. Families and communities destroyed […] courtesy of the Canadian government. Courtesy of the Canadian public.” Halfe bravely records her memories, of being at residential school, the effect it had on herself and others, and how those experiences have stained life afterward. She struggles between reluctance and desire to share her knowledge. In the acknowledgements, she writes, “I would not have written this story if it wasn’t for the interest of my children […] and my need to describe a history that remains present.” The poems recoil through time and space, comprising a glimpse as opposed to a complete narrative. “I know this landslide / is hard to bear. I’ve pulled the stink weeds for you / to ingest.” Halfe includes her own trepidations,…

The Sky Was 1950 Blue
JackPine Press / 7 July 2016

The Sky Was 1950s Blue Written by Katherin Edwards, Design by Melissa Haney Published by Jackpine Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $30.00 ISBN 978-1-927035-22-1 Jackpine Press recently released The Sky Was 1950 Blue-a collaborative chapbook written by Katherin Edwards and designed by Melissa Haney-and I received #51 of a limited edition of 75 copies for review. Limited edition, handmade books are Jackpine’s foray, and each time I receive one I’m excited to see how the author and designer-often one and the same-have reconciled content and construct: concepts are such interesting animals. Edwards’ colourful title comes from an Ian Tyson lyric, and the 1950s are represented here not only in the saddle-stitched book’s hue and interior drawings, but also in the fact that each poem includes a year (between 1950 and 1959) in its title. I opened the chapbook to discover that it also possesses a subtitle, “Poems from the Clothesline,” and indeed a continuous drawn clothesline acts like a border, stretching across the top of each page and supporting simple drawings of the clothing and linens referenced in each of the thirteen poems. The books were printed via a three hundred year-old process called cyanotype, which involves both “sunning”…