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”…

Homecoming
JackPine Press / 1 July 2016

homecoming Written by Zondra M. Roy Published by Jackpine Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $30 ISBN 978-1-927035-20-7 Sometimes the lines between genres blur. As I began reading Zondra M. Roy’s chapbook, homecoming, I thought: looks like poetry, feels like a first-person essay. This isn’t poetry filled with similes, metaphors, alliteration, and finely-crafted images, this is a straight-up story (with line breaks) that shouts This is how it’s been, I’ve made mistakes, and I’m grateful for the people and activities (like performing hip-hop) that’ve helped me along the way. The Dené/Cree/Métis writer left home at thirteen and she doesn’t hold back on her life’s gritty details as she writes of bouncing between various homes in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick (“for a few months”), and British Columbia. Actually, the word home is a misnomer here–no warm connotations of homemade bread and a family sitting around a fireplace exist when one’s stays include a juvenile detention centre in Saskatoon; jail; and that hardest of beds–the street. Roy begins her story with family history: “My parents were born into a society that was built to facilitate their failures.\well, fuck\they were native people in the northern prairies.” Strong language and a strong voice,…

Lost + Found
JackPine Press / 23 June 2016

Lost + Found: Signposts for Steering Through the World by Laura Lamont, Designed by Jess Dixon Published by Jackpine Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl ISBN 978-1-927035-18-4 $30.00 In 2015, Saskatoon’s Jackpine Press published Lost + Found: Signposts for Steering Through the World, and the good news for the press and the book’s creators is bad news for you, readers: each of the 75 copies of this limited-edition, hardcover (millboard wrapped in craft paper, bound with fabric tape and snapped together with Chicago bolts) has already found a home. Usually one reviews books that are new and available, but it’s also worthwhile to examine a success story, and introduce readers to the writer so they can watch for future works. Let’s begin with this book’s eclectic design. If it were a painting, I’d suggest it’s closet to collage. If it were music, it would be jazz. Inset location diagrams represent individual poems and appear as background to each poem’s text. Imprinted cotton paper; cascading, torn vellum; a post-it-style note (that protrudes outside the book’s neat and expected rectangle); apparent “scrap paper;” and pages that are coffee-cup ringed and wrinkled are all fair game for hosting poems in this little marvel…

Connectomics
JackPine Press / 16 June 2016

Connectomics Written by Alison Calder Published by Jackpine Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $30 ISBN 978-1-927035-21-4 Into the laboratory we go: the fourteen poems in established writer and Winnipeger Alison Calder’s Connectomics are like little scientific explosions of light: things you didn’t know you’d want to know but are glad you know now. In her words, “The idea is\to render the brain\transparent enough to read through.” That’s heady stuff, but Calder takes this concept and renders it into thought-provoking poems that show she’s a master of metaphor, and prove that her literary experiments work. The brain as poetic fodder makes good sense. It’s complex, essential. Nerve central. And Calder, who teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of Manitoba, explores it from interesting angles. In “Clarity2” she imagines the mind of a mouse that’s had firefly genes spliced into for Alzheimer’s research. “Inside his skull\the past incinerates” she writes, “fragments\of a film that’s not replayed.” On the page opposite this short poem there’s a white image (on black) of a brain: it looks like a medical image and it resembles art. The subject of the next poem, “C Elegans3,” is “a small, soil-dwelling nematode.” (The accompanying drawing…