Wind Leaves Absence
Thistledown Press / 26 May 2016

Wind Leaves Absence by Mary Maxwell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-100-6 I read Saskatoon poet (and nurse) Mary Maxwell’s first book, Wind Leaves Absence, with interest and no small amount of admiration. Many first books of what’s often called confessional poetry-I prefer the word intimate-are a compendium of high\low events experienced over the writer’s lifetime, and what results is a wildly disparate package. While diversity can make for a lively read, we often see more seasoned writers tackle exclusive subjects, examining from multiple angles and probing more deeply to illuminate, better understand, and process. Maxwell daringly takes on the landscape of grief, specifically the pain experienced upon the deaths of her father, two brothers (who died in car accidents two years apart), friends, and patients. Religion–in particular the Catholicism she grew up with and appears to wrestle with (“miserable prayers”)–is also front and centre in this collection. In the first few poems the writer establishes mood with phrases that emotionally thrum, like bells in a deserted monastery: “the wilderness between words,” “Trousers fall from hangers\collapse on the floor,” and “Pushing his walker through wet matted leaves.” She does a spot-on job of portraying…

The Sixth Age

The Sixth Age by Kay Parley Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Leslie Vermeer $19.95 978-1-894431-85-9 The Sixth Age is a gentle comedic novel about a few months in the life of Allie Dutton, a poet, former farm wife, and practical prairie woman. Allie lives in a cooperative residence for aging creatives – emphatically not a nursing home, thank you very much – situated in the wondrous Qu’Appelle Valley. When some of the residents – actors, musicians, painters, and writers – decide to “put on a show” for the locals, Allie is drawn into the action despite her better judgement. Of course chaos ensues. Residents are falling ill, having accidents, getting lost. Government bureaucrats visit the residence, threatening to break up the community. And then Allie meets a carpenter who makes her wonder about love and second chances. Author Kay Parley’s gang of elderly back-to-the-landers beautifully reflects the ethos of the mid 1970s. Although Parley wrote the manuscript decades ago, it has only recently been published, and its arrival is timely. The novel touches on issues relevant to many readers, but Parley herself felt the novel would reverberate with the Baby Boomers who are now beginning to retire….

*Reading from Behind

*Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus by Jonathan A. Allan Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $34.95 ISBN 9-780889-773844 I’m going to take a leap here and suggest that the asterisk that appears on the cover and in the title of writer and academic Jonathan A. Allan’s provocative new book – the first in a series of books about the body by University of Regina Press – is not by chance. *Reading from Behind pokes fun and slings puns at that most base of body parts, the anus, while also situating it – in all seriousness – within a cultural and literary context. In his ballsy, er, assiduous text, Allan laments how society’s historically been phallic-centric, and he attempts to get to the bottom (it’s impossible to help myself) of why the anus gets short shrift. True to his scholarly quest, Allan addresses the anus “head on”: there are sixty pages of comprehensive notes and references here – plus an index – following the eight chapters (with delightful names, ie: “Topping from the Bottom: Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy” and “Spanking Colonialism”). Clearly, this book was not written without significant research….

Inside the Mental

Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD by Kay Parley Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-411-7 You never know who you might run into in a mental institution. When Kay Parley is admitted to the Weyburn Mental Hospital, she meets her father and grandfather. Her grandfather had been there before Kay was even born, and her father entered the institution when Kay was only six. She jokes that “they’d have to tear the place down if it wasn’t for my family.” This is one of many shocking details Kay relates in her book, Inside the Mental, a compilation of eighteen stories based on her experiences as both a patient and later as a nurse at The Mental as she calls it. Most of these stories have been previously published in magazines dealing with mental health issues and in her self-published volume, Lady with a Lantern. After a nervous breakdown in 1948, Kay finds herself in the Weyburn Mental Hospital, originally known as the Saskatchewan Hospital. When she observes a row of patients eating with their hands, mixing orange and toast into their porridge and slurping like dogs, a fellow patient tries to…

I am Free

I Am Free by Del Suelo Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-50-8 When I began I Am Free – Saskatchewan writer, wanderer, and musician Del Suelo’s “slow-art” project that combines text and an audio CD in a compact hardcover package – I was perplexed. What was this? Autobiography, I surmised. But by the second essay – or chapter, or linked story – a plot evolved and it began to read more like a novella. Knowing the genre of a text isn’t critical to its enjoyment, but as both a writer and reviewer I’m perhaps unfairly keen to “name that genre”. I quickly came to appreciate the blurred lines and the vagueness (ie: we never learn which Saskatchewan city the story’s set in), especially as they emulate the dream-like text. I turned to the author’s own website (www.delsuelo.net) for explication, and learned that Del Suelo (aka Eric Mehlsen) describes the text portion of his mesmerizing book\CD combo as a novel. The CD’s ten songs correspond to their same-named chapters. In Del Suelo’s words: “The songs and prose lean on each other in a way that together create a sense of depth that I’ve…

Forever Changed
DriverWorks Ink / 11 May 2016

Forever Changed by Cheri Helstrom Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Keith Foster $16.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-27-2 Change is inevitable. Some changes are so massive that they can change one’s life – dramatically and permanently. In Forever Changed, Cheri Helstrom relates how a series of changes affected her father, massively and permanently. In this work of creative nonfiction, Cheri tells the story of her father, William Richard Scott, as if he is telling the story himself. Known better as Ritchie, he lives with his parents and six siblings in Alameda, SK, where his businessman father is the town’s first mayor. As the title suggests, Ritchie experiences several changes that forever affect him. The first is when his mother dies. Then the Great Depression changes everything. There are further changes when his father dies. World War II brings more changes. But perhaps the biggest change, and his biggest challenge, is when he gives up alcohol. One of Ritchie’s great joys as a youngster is going on a trip with his father to the Banff Springs Hotel, where he later works for the summer as a bellboy. Later still, he works as an office boy at the Coca-Cola head office in Toronto. When…

Sons and Mothers

Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men Edited by Mary Ann Loewen Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-780889-774032 I’m a fourth generation Canadian, and unfortunately haven’t been privy to conversations about ancestors’ “old country” lives, which, in my case, would have included several European counties. I’ve always felt a kind of longing for such tales, for knowing where we come from helps make sense of who we are today. After reading Sons and Mothers, Stories from Mennonite Men – a collection of a dozen essays commissioned by Winnipeg writer and educator Mary Ann Loewen – I recognize that the disparate contributors’ common heritage bonds them in an almost familial way. Yes, these Mennonite men have shared so many similar experiences they’re like one large family: a family that sings, reads, tells stories, and worships together; values hard work; practices altruism; and celebrates one another – even when individual beliefs don’t align. Two of the most obvious threads in this affecting anthology are the prominent role that music’s played – for the mothers and for their sons – and how several offspring strayed from the church’s traditional doctrines. What distinguishes the essays are…

Questions for Wolf
Thistledown Press / 3 May 2016

Questions for Wolf by Shannon Quinn Published by Thistledown Press Review by Allison Kydd $12.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-058-0 Questions for Wolf is a collection of poetry in Thistledown Press’s New Leaf Series. In these haunting, often savage lines, Shannon Quinn evokes not only those who have been exploited, silenced and murdered, but all women. The images are so delicate, yet complex, it is best they speak for themselves. First there are the children: “younger girls fly by/lost in the magical history/of secondhand bikes/all tassels and pigtails . . .” and close by there’s “. . . a circle of girls too young to be with boys who drive cars. . .”. Then come the evils of “sparse expectations,” “a list/of inner-city mortifications/that comes with being poor and a girl”. Quinn knows the drive for something better and the desire for love and attention: “Boys see you for the first time/They see you they see you they see you/gliding mid-flight/Can’t touch you/Can almost touch you”. Such vulnerability leads to ruin, and yet: “I don’t want to be gentle/or wear the comfortable footwear/of common goals/or join the queue/to pull a ticket to collect on insufficient blessings”. Addiction too begins with the promise of…

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