5 August 2010

by Andrew Stubbs
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-72-0

I don’t know the writer and University of Regina professor, Andrew Stubbs, but I’m certain he’d make a great dinner guest. I make this claim after devouring Endgames, his new book of poetry with Thistledown Press. It’s the breadth of interests and knowledge that wow: Stubbs writes intelligently about theology, psychoanalysis, history, and, most importantly to this reader: love in the here and now.

Character-based titles reveal his range: from heloise\ abelard” (tragic lovers) to “the count of monte cristo” and “bond james bond”. One part of the book is dedicated to a poetic portrait of Daniel Paul Schreber (d. 1911), a judge, “failed candidate for the Reichstag,” and artist who suffered from paranoid fantasies that attracted the attention of Freud. The author includes an illuminating introduction to this section.
Many of the pieces are written in a minimalistic, “snapshot” style. To illustrate, here’s the poem “foreign affairs” in its entirety:

foreign affairs

it was a town. it had a beach,
vacancies. chat over
brandy, bartok. morning:
tim’s on the run lunch in the car.
somewhere up north.

Look at the references here: from “bartok” to “tim’s,” (which this Canadian reader interprets as Tim Horton’s). There’s not a single excess word, and though we don’t know the nature of the “foreign affairs” alluded to in the title, the poet provides just enough for one to imagine a frenetic time and place. These few lines also open a window into character. (Here’s a challenge: if you had only five lines to preserve a place and time, how would you manage it?)

Like any book of poetry worth its weight, Endgames is saturated with arresting images and lines one does not easily forget, like “I\miss the war\in your eyes” and “slowly I’m learning not to call anything my own.”

My favourite poem in the collection, “winter street” begins with a quote from Charles Bukowski and offers a fresh take on heartache. Stubbs writes:

lost love,
spice added to
the jambalaya of nightfall, you
pin to the air
like a wreath.

Read this poem slowly: these are genius linebreaks, and “winter street” is a sparkling metaphor for grief. In another meditation on heartbreak – “mainz, germany, april 1981” – Stubbs hits paydirt again:

after the years
those first versions
of us dead. still, I admit to hope
they’re somewhere, friends. We’ll meet them, later
in the forest.

Passages like the above are so well-wrought I post them where I can see them – on my fridge – to enjoy every day. (Jambalaya, indeed.)

Stubbs is well-known as an editor and a scholar on the work of Estevan-born poet Eli Mandel. As with Mandel, form and ingenuity are central to the poet’s writing. His first poetry book, White Light Primitive, was released in 2009. A thinker with a beating heart: most welcome.


One Comment

  • M 6 October 2010 at 4:43 am

    I had the pleasure of taking courses with Andy and he was a joy, somewhat eccentric, but in a good way. A very interesting conversationalist. However, I really never read any of his work, just enjoyed the man in the environment of a classroom.