History Forest, The

31 May 2023

The History Forest
by Michael Trussler
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9780889778948

Books by multi-genre writer and University of Regina professor of English Michael Trussler make a mark. Take The Sunday Book, a nonfiction title that garnered two awards in the 2023 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Take The History Forest, the poetry collection for which Trussler earned the Poetry Award in the same provincial competition. An admirable trifecta.

I read the latter slowly, and twice: it’s dense, philosophical, apocalyptic, and often surreal, and I didn’t always know how to navigate it—something like walking through a forest under the cape of night. To read Trussler is to have one’s mind stretched; I even remembered things I’d forgotten, ie: The Twinkie Defence. This dexterous poet quotes myriad poets and writers; references artworks and philosophers; and had me regularly Googling (ie: Panpyschism; Ordovician; ekistics; hand-wrestler Candy Pain; Zen monk, Kenkō). Even the line and stanza breaks kept me guessing in this experimental book.

In Trussler’s poetic universe, a strong sense of humanity’s vulnerability pervades—and the sturdy conviction that we’ve doomed ourselves. There’s a “gasoline haze/above the playground” and “peripatetic plastic straws/washed up on the sand,” will “last far longer than your great-/grandchildren”. Civilization is “blistered and botched”. God is here, and equally fearful: “And it may/well be that the only thing I’ll regret, says God to himself, is/having never run away from home. But where/to hide amidst all this life that’s heaving?” I don’t know, and Trussler doesn’t pretend to either.

Time appears to be one of the characters in this globally-aware collection. “In Japan they’ve made a skating rink/of crushed centuries and untold/species of fish,” he writes. In a later poem: “Arctic ice very soon making room for better cables for instant digital connection between Tokyo and London”. And in the piece “Salvador Dali and the Glacier,” Trussler asserts that “Ice is losing its various/names and it’s not only avian malaria that’s on the rise”.

Striking juxtapositions and stream-of-consciousness are at constant, startling play. In a single poem one finds pencil crayons and a Zip-loc bag; heroin and “sky-blue vodka bottles;” a “rain-rusted/wheelbarrow asleep on the heath” and “the Youtube cry of peacocks, flamingoes,/humpback whales, and antelopes as lithe as wind farms in/Germany”. Yes, “something wyrd is all around”.

The book’s final section is an essay titled “Bodhisattva on a Bicycle,” and it begins: “Appearing from nowhere, the world sometimes catches itself within various mirrors. It takes luck to open them, and then to listen to what’s gathered inside.” Mirrors play an ongoing role in this pensive collection. Trussler examines himself, history, the natural world, the environment, and contemporary society in the looking glass, and explores “what it means to be alive in this increasingly contradictory and frightening era in human history”.

This original, award-winning poet observes, he questions, he reveres birds. Owls (one’s featured on the cover), mourning doves, oystercatchers, swallows, red-breasted nuthatches, a “grey cockatiel,” grebes, bluebirds … “Birds aren’t here to give me any kind of grace,/but they do give grace, they make me feel part of the world again.”


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