Rogues and Rebels

Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West by Brian Brennan Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $24.95 9780889773981 Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West by Brian Brennan provides a survey of some famous, notorious, and little known people who contributed to Canadian history. In Brennan’s profile of Margaret “Ma” Murray (1888-1982), the reader can tell that he is pleased with his subject. As a young lady, Margaret did the books for a saddle company in Kansas City, where she “amused herself by including personal notes with the saddles being shipped to Alberta.” When “some of the cowboys replied and sent photographs of themselves,” she moved to Canada “in hopes of meeting and marrying a handsome cowboy of mythic proportions.” She took a bookkeeping job with a Vancouver newspaper where she met her future husband, the owner of the newspaper. Together they started the Bridge River-Lillooet News, where she “churned out the provocative opinion columns that would become her trademark. Written in what she liked to call ‘flapdoodle vernacular,’ they were sprinkled with such salty expressions as ‘damfool critters’ and ‘that’s fer damshur.’” Brennan’s biography of Ma Murray is insightful and witty, reflecting her…

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…

The Surprising Lives of Small Town Doctors

The Surprising Lives of Small-Town Doctors edited by Dr. Paul Dhillon Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $21.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-431-5 “All doctors, no matter how great or experienced, are a work in progress. They call it practising medicine for a reason.” So declares Dr. Aleem Jamal, one of forty doctors who relate their experiences in The Surprising Lives of Small-Town Doctors, edited by Dr. Paul Dhillon. This 222-page book contains forty stories from all ten Canadian provinces and three territories. One story is in French with English translation, and five are by Saskatchewan physicians. The stories are split almost equally between male and female doctors. As editor, Dr. Dhillon introduces each doctor with a short paragraph. Before relocating to rural or remote areas in Canada, many of these professionals gained experience internationally, such as through Doctors Without Borders. The Surprising Lives of Small-Town Doctors has intriguing chapter titles such as “Do Not Feed the Polar Bears,” “Goldibear and the Four Anglers,” and “Horse Kicks, Talking Heads, and Bear Chases – Oh My!” Speaking of bears, when a patient with dementia claims to have seen one outside his hospital window, his doctor thinks he’s hallucinating, until a…

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…

Measures of Astonishment

Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry with contributions by Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, George Elliot Clarke, and others ISBN 9780889773714 $27.95 Published by U of R Press Review by Tanya Foster For the creative writer or the poetry reader or the literary specialist, a collection of essays by poets on poetry is an enticement. Many such collections have been written—some consider the poetic process; others uphold various theoretical positions; and others are structured around literary or historical periods. This collection, entitled Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry, is, above all a tribute to poetry. The writers showcase the transfigurative power of poetry—the life-giving, community-building, reality-defining, other-centering possibilities of poetry. As a creative reader, reading this collection will help to unlock a poetic impulse. One of the dominant ideas from the collection is that poetry’s capacity for making connections has transformative power. How often do we try to grab onto a hazy idea that eludes our intellect or try to express what an experience meant but can’t find the language? Metaphor, argue many of the authors, is what poets most rely on to bring connections between what is known and what is unknown. Metaphor offers us access into ideas and experiences…

A Map in My Blood
Thistledown Press / 9 June 2016

A Map in my Blood by Carla Braidek Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-096-2 Saskatchewan writer Carla Braidek’s most recent poetry demonstrates deep gratitude for the boreal forest in which she lives and the enviable life she’s made there, but, like anyone with the gift of imagination and the fancy of a dreamer, her emotional pendulum can’t help but swing toward “What if?”. Even the book’s title, A Map in my Blood, hints at the restlessness that currents beneath poems that celebrate the natural world and its creatures, family, food, the work of the land, childhood innocence, and rural living. The opening poem, “Where Do I Begin,” sets the bar high. “Beginning” here can refer to the book itself or the spinning of a life’s tale. It’s also a phrase commonly used to express exasperation. I admire how the Big River poet begins with ordinary details-a broken ankle, helping fix a deck-then she takes an existential leap and asks: “how do we know where a moment begins?” This questioning ferries readers to a deeper level. A spark fires, we’re engaged, and committed to asking ourselves the same question about the details of our own…

Shift
Thistledown Press / 2 June 2016

Shift by Kelly Shepherd Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-104-4 I was looking for “shifts” in Kelly Shepherd’s poetry collection, and I found them. Shepherd lives and teaches in Edmonton, and his gritty book, Shift, is testament to the fact that his hands have worked more than a pen. The author’s been part of the multitude that migrated to Fort McMurray for work, and he shows us many sides of that “orange-hardhat” dynamic, from workers “loading into buses before dawn, getting paid to build something\we don’t understand for someone we don’t know” to the “endless crumpled sky” and a “landscape\painting on the lunchroom wall” that is “of another place, not here”. Shift, then, refers in part to shift work, or a work-shift. I also found it in poems like “Honing,” about cement grinding\smoothing. The shift here comes when the narrator recognizes that the “ugly, utilitarian, dusty” cement “[opens] itself up and\the stones glimmer like stars”. There are dramatic shifts in weather during all-day drives, that moment “when the steering wheel started to bloom” and “the windshield blinked in the sun”. In the title poem, the shift concerns a diving grebe and a duck’s lift…

Journeys in Community-Based Research (Softcover)

Journeys in Community-Based Research by Bonnie Jeffery, Isobel M. Findlay, Diane Martz, and Louise Clarke, eds. Published by University of Regina Press Review by Leslie Vermeer $34.95 978-0-88977-339-4 To many people, pure academic research seems obscure, even irrelevant. Some organizations pointedly ridicule curiosity-based research, implying that only applied research – research undertaken to be put to use – is valuable. And then there is community-based research, a third form directed at positive action, social change, and advocacy, and also the subject of a recent book published by University of Regina Press. It might just change your mind about the significance of academic research. Journeys in Community-Based Research examines ten years of community-based research in Saskatchewan. This research has been underwritten by two bodies – the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) and the Community–University Institute for Social Research (CUISR) – that work with various partners to address community issues and create positive change. Readers may be familiar with some of the projects and their outcomes. Community-based research (CBR) connects academic rigour with real community needs, producing valuable relationships among universities, policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and social agencies. The goal is always to discover and deliver benefits for communities at…

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