Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest
Hagios Press / 12 April 2016

Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West by Sean Arthur Joyce Published by Hagios Press Review by Keith Foster $18.95 ISBN 978-1-926710-27-3 Even the best intentions can be paving stones to hell. In most cases, well-intentioned people like Thomas Barnardo thought they were helping homeless British children by sending them across the “golden bridge” to new homes in Canada. Their lives, however, were anything but golden. In Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, Sean Arthur Joyce serves up some startling statistics. From the 1860s to 1967, “some 130,000 children were scooped up from the mean streets” of Britain “to be used as slave labour.” About 100,000 of them ended up in Canada, mostly on farms. Joyce, himself a grandson of a home child, points out that today there could be as many as four million descendants of these children – about one in eight Canadians! Conditions for homeless children in Britain were barely tolerable. In the East End of London, four out of five infants would die before their fifth year. Barnardo and Annie Macpherson started “ragged schools” – so named because the children were literally in rags – that provided them with at least…

The Birthday Books
Hagios Press / 18 September 2015

The Birthday Books by Joanna Lilley Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 9 781926 710334 $18.95 Joanna Lilley’s short story collection, The Birthday Books, promises readers an unforgettable trip to the threshold of becoming that exists on no map, but in individual minds and social consciousness, along the boundary of the familiar and the unknown. Many of the stories in this collection mark time and place one beat prior to personal transformation, within circumstances that distort, clarify, or enhance the lenses used to peer into the self, others and into the past. Many of the characters in this collection are on the edge of something momentous. The stories are parsimonious and elegant, at once mystifying and perspicacious, the images formed from spaces teeming with anguish, euphoria, uncertainty, curiosity, and rare beauty. In her characters’ attraction to the North, in “Rearranging Rainbows,” “Silver Salmon,” “Magnetic North,” “Carbonated,” and “The Ladies of Marsh Lake,” Lilley composes a convincing testament to the North’s magnetic powers, what makes this harsh and challenging environment so alluring to the imaginations of those desiring a break from modern existence or individual circumstance. Readers will be enthralled with Lilley’s character’s wanderlust, with how their thoughts,…

Homage to Happiness
Hagios Press / 21 August 2015

Homage to Happiness by Judith Krause Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-926710-29-7 In her fifth collection, Homage to Happiness, Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Judith Krause integrates a multitude of subjects and voices to create a savoury feast of poems. The Regina poet throws her pen’s light on insomnia, family, horses, Regina (a long poem, “Cathedral Village,” is dedicated to that enviable neighbourhood), travel, love, poets, science projects, news items, the hourglass, the number 13, food (poems include “Gingerbread” and “Chili Tomatoes”), and much more. Discovering the surprise of where she’ll go next is half the pleasure of this book, which features a cover painting by William Perehudoff against a “happy” yellow background. The Acknowledgements reveal that the life story of SK-born abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin inspired some of the work; I admire those writers like Krause who can take on another’s persona and get so deeply “inside” that they make readers believe they’re engaging directly with the subject. In the long title poem, Krause gives us both a literal and interior portrayal of the artist, Martin. She writes: “my large hands\at ease, hanging over\the ends of the armrests, as exotic\as two bunches of bananas”…

Leaving Mr. Humphries

Leaving Mr. Humphries by Alison Lohans Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-07-2 There are some writers you can always depend on to turn out a good book, regardless of the genre. I first knew Regina author Alison Lohans as a short story writer for young adults. She’s also impressed me with her novels and children’s books. The ability to genre-hop and keep the literary standards at high-bar are Lohans’ trademarks, so I’m not surprised that Leaving Mr. Humphries, her tender story about a child reluctant to let go of his stuffed blue teddy bear, Mr. Humphries, also delivers a read that simultaneously entertains and plucks at the heart-strings. This book is the result of a familial collaboration: it’s illustrated by Gretchen Ehrsam, Lohans’ American cousin, who-like the author-enjoyed childhood vacations at the family’s cottage in Dorset ON. What first impressed was how quickly I was engaged. With kids’ books, writers don’t have the luxury to slowly beguile readers, and Lohans instantly gets us into the main character’s head and heart-space. Josh is the protagonist. His mother is off to “a conference in the city,” and he’ll have to stay with Grandpa and…

Stealing Home
Hagios Press / 18 June 2015

Stealing Home by Dwayne Brenna Published by Hagios Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $17.95 978-192671021-1 Stealing Home, a book of poetry by Dwayne Brenna, begins strong, careening through a tour of baseball parks. Some of the more notable parks mused on include Ebbets Field, Candlestick Park, and The Big O. In a poem called “Shea Stadium, New York City, 2005” Brenna uses the senses to provide vivid imagery: “the thwack of hickory…and rumble rising from expensive seats down low.” Here, auditory language is used to evoke the sounds of the game, which causes seasoned fans to reminisce about their ballpark experiences, or allow someone who doesn’t understand sports fans to put his/herself in their place. For those of you scoring at home, this also calls to mind that before television, most people experienced professional baseball through radio only. At the end of the first section, in “Cairns Field, Saskatoon, 2010,” Brenna evokes the visual: “the infield grass is luminous, as green / as spring in your imaginings. The lights / of Saskatoon are dots against the sky, / the deep blue sky behind right field.” This is my favourite passage, putting me right back on the mound. I recall seeing…

Downstream: Bestemor and Me
Hagios Press / 29 May 2015

Downstream: Bestemor & Me by Vangie Bergum Published by Hagios Press Review by Keith Foster $18.95 ISBN 978-1-926710-26-6 In Downstream: Bestemor & Me, Vangie Bergum takes readers on her spiritual journey of self-awakening, self-discovery, and self-empowerment. Through creative non-fiction, she interweaves her own life story with that of her grandparents, peppering her narrative with Norwegian words and phrases, reflecting her ancestral background. While visiting Norway, she ponders why her grandparents left “this verdant land to spend their lives in the dry, treeless, windy spaces of the Saskatchewan prairies.” Her name, Bergum, “means encircled or surrounded by mountains,” and she wonders if this is where she was meant to be. In a twist of fate, the next generation, her mother’s generation, fears “the hovering mountains,” she says. “They claim they can only breathe on the non-stop prairie.” As she explores her Norwegian roots, Bergum uncovers a family tragedy – the deaths of her grandparents and their two daughters. She says the manner of their deaths – murder and suicide – brought shame to her family, “a shame encoded in my life from the time of my conception.” Adding to that shame is the fact that her grandmother spent time in two…

Wildness Rushing In
Hagios Press / 8 April 2015

Wildness Rushing In by dee Hobsbawn-Smith Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-192671025-9 Wildness Rushing In is the first book of poetry by Saskatchewan writer dee Hobsbawn-Smith, and, as with many inaugural books, she mines wide-ranging personal experience-from childhood to the present-for a collection that reveals her universe of passions, sorrows, and the reflective, in-between moments best expressed in poetry. Among what impressed was Hobsbawn-Smith’s range of form (she incorporates prose poems, the villanelle, couplets, quatrains, a glosa, and less formally structured pieces), and her liberal use of personification. Snowflakes “swathe\the metal braces and rusty frames\of the tools in the farm field,” morning fog is described as “smoothing\the landscape,” and sun “rubs the ashes\from the forehead of the sky.” In her poem “The great divide,” a remembrance of a drive home with sleeping sons in the back seat of the car, she writes “a windshield full of stars\weeps for what can’t be said.” So lovely, and weighted with meaning. One way a writer adds music to poems is by using alliteration, and we see-and hear-numerous examples of this kind of music in this book. In a touching poem for a brother who died too soon,…

Hagios Press / 20 January 2015

Rove by Laurie D Graham Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-192671023-5 I usually open a poetry collection expecting that the first few pages will provide a reasonably good sense of the author’s style and subject matter. In the opening pages of Rove, by London ON poet Laurie D Graham, I correctly gleaned that this writer would address a veritable smorgasbord of issues: political, environmental, First Peoples’, agricultural, poverty, health, and urban vs. rural. I also learned that this rapid-fire poet writes mostly in couplets, she often begins her lines with imperatives (“Say fluorescent lightbulbs will save\the earth, say there’s a heart” and “See the branches of the suburbs blossom wild with bungalows”), and that hers is indeed a distinct new voice on the CanLit scene. Further into the book I realized that she also weaves in personal family history, and that I was often surprised and delighted by the myriad twists and turns this daring writer takes. Rove is a long poem that reads partly like a rant, (“say the numbers, tell the Wheat Board where to go, say it fast like an auction and move to the city, say minimum wage and grunt…

Afghanistan Confessions
Hagios Press / 8 January 2015

Afghanistan Confessions by Victor Enns Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978-1-926710-32-7 $17.95 Victor Enns’ collection, Afghanistan Confessions, is voice poetry that draws on the violence, chaos, death, and wholesale desecrations that mark the dimensions of war as experienced by soldiers on the ground. Written in the confessional mode, the poems emanate affective energy, and are compulsively readable. It is poetry for readers who wish to probe the unlapsing dominion war wields over those who pursue it, over those who must grow more or less accustomed to its atrocities and its ugly realities. It unapologetically presents mind and perception under the influence of war’s effects, beyond the domestic domain of ideological argument, as one of its speakers declares, “[t]his is my third tour, and I still want more/heat, dust, challenge and blood”. This collection’s presentation of war, its glimpses of sublime transfiguration, is endorsed in an afterword by Neil Maclean, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan, which lends this sympathetic and intriguing collection even greater credibility. It is honest, unflinching, and fully alive as an account of 21st Century war, a subject matter to which the poetic of voice seems especially suited under Enns’ pen. The collection…

The Invisible Library
Hagios Press / 24 December 2014

The Invisible Library by Paul Wilson Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-192671019-8 There’s an image of a book on the handsome cover of Regina poet Paul Wilson’s The Invisible Library, and it couldn’t be more apt. This is a book about books, and one that word lovers should include in their libraries. It is my favourite book by this writer to date. Wilson is a veteran poet, editor, and a winner of the City of Regina Book Award. He clearly reveres books, and possesses the imagination, craft, and intellect to enthrall readers with his own. Sometimes the narrator addresses his readers and offers gentle advice. In “The Invention of Paper: A Memoir,” he writes: “Please,\read these words like falling snowflakes: without aim or goal.\ See how they take the shape of what they silently settle on.” As good poets do, Wilson pays attention to the things most people probably miss, like the “moist breath” of rice, and the “hair pins and the pennies\found in the dryer, and the lint too, purple, from the red shirts\and blue towels…” He writes that “Our finger-prints are small saline lakes\that will outlast us.” I love all of this….

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