Rock Creek Blues
Coteau Books / 30 November 2011

Rock Creek Blues by Thelma Poirier Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 CAD ISBN 13: 9781550504552 While reading Rock Creek Blues a narrative began to unfold, during which I couldn’t count the number of times I felt my eyebrows raise. I was impressed by the sheer subtle courage of Poirier. This book is an exploration of death, providing the spectrum of the food chain and thickly sauced with the tart flavor of human acceptance and/or conflict about it; a study of harmony and discord spanning Rock Creek, Saskatchewan and New Orleans, Louisiana. Poirier’s writing is versatile and organic, in a way that is neither arrogant nor assuming-A poet and storyteller in a truly dramatic way. There was suspense that I didn’t even know was building at first. To expand on that, it is like the story developed a wider and wider range as it went along like someone I didn’t even know was a minstrel walked up to me: “Want to hear a joke?” And here I am forty-five minutes later, I’m still listening, rapt, to the dynamic voice changes, and can’t wait for the end, in the very best way, because I feel a desire to…

In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba
Thistledown Press / 19 October 2011

In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba by Amanda Hale Published by Thistledown Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $18.95 CAD 987-1-897235-87-4 Amanda Hale’s 2011 book of short stories, In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba, is a gripping celebration of mystery unraveled using beautiful language. Hale launches in with a story called “First Steps, Last Steps;” immediately gripping, beginning in the middle. The subject of the story is introduced: “His legs were twisted, as though they’d been torqued and broken, his feet wrapped in burlap with cardboard soles and twine to hold them firm. I’d done the left one, Leila the right, our hands twisting and binding.” I wondered if I was about to read a story about kidnapping, abuse? Is “he” a child, an adult, an animal? I didn’t know, but I was getting to the end of the story to find out. In the story “Witness,” I was astounded by Hale’s ability to achieve pathos. She describes a long wait, on a hot day: “She took the pen from him and patted his arm, then she signed, wanting only to get out of there and cross the street to her own home, to eat…

A Eulogy For the Buoyant
JackPine Press / 22 June 2011

A Eulogy for the Buoyant by Zachari Logan Published by JackPine Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $30 978-0-9865426-2-6 From the title, a reader already knows that Zachari Logan’s A Eulogy for the Buoyant will be a book about death. It is a little book in a black paper bag, on the front of which has been stenciled the title. Modestly covered with a blank sheet of Mylar, hand bound in a thick black paper cover, inscribed, ‘for Dad’ in red pencil crayon, the book is a sandwich of drawing paper and thin rice paper with text that shows through to the studious graphite illustrations of branches and flowers. There is an elegy for a lover, a self, and a home. In a voice directed to the dead, which makes it seem more personal, less introspective, Logan explores grief in a numbered exploration called “Burgundy: 1-17” : 2People here amuse themselves, to deal with the loneliness of obscurity. Debating the timeliness of winter how breath loses contagion when February catches it. Christmas presents, tombs housing the memories of Christmas two months dead. Philosophising loss until it is little more than apprehension— and the assumption is, normality follows. Rich in language and…

Lonely Luna

Lonely Luna by Majid Damircheli Illustrated by Wendy Siemens Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Kris Brandhagen $14.95 978-1-894431-59-0. Lonely Luna written by Majid Damircheli with illustrations by Wendy Siemens is about a little girl who moves from a warm climate to a cold one. It is a story that successfully conveys some of the trials and hardship that may occur within a family, and specifically with children, when making such a grand adjustment in place, weather, language, family relations, and culture shock. As Luna experiences winter for the first time, Damircheli establishes a nice rhythm of repetition, using epithets to teach about snow being “white like milk” and “cold as ice”. Because of the weather, the neighboring children don’t go out to play, and Luna only gazes out the window at the empty neighborhood, hence the title Lonely Luna. Luna is seriously out of her element in terms of temperature, but also in terms of language. She seems to be, hmm, eight? She can’t understand at school, and so doesn’t make friends there either. To the moon and the sun, in turn, she wishes for a friend. Siemens includes an illustration that shows three figurines, the sun,…

Mind the Gap!
Dunlop Art Gallery / 13 May 2011

Mind the Gap! Exhibition Curated by: Amanda Cachia and Jeff Nye Published by Dunlop Art Gallery Review by Kris Brandhagen $30 ISBN:978-1-894882-35-4 Mind the Gap! is an exhibition catalogue for a group show of the same name, co-curated by Amanda Cachia, then Gallery Director, and Jeff Nye, Assistant Director of the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. This exhibition displayed “contemporary visual art by 30 artists, including a three-person collective, from 13 cities and towns” in Saskatchewan. In her introduction, Cachia explains that the title, Mind the Gap! is a misguided term that refers to Saskatchewan as “the gap in Canada’s consciousness and geo-cultural landscape”. It is a good book that I am happy to have in my library. Nye’s essay, “Maps, Gaps, & Intersections: Navigating Saskatchewan” attends to some of the topics that affect artists in this province and their works, such as: the lay of the land, disease and the body, living traditions, environmental interruptions, and contemporary social and visual media. This catalogue also embraces the literary arts, including non-fiction and poetry inspired by Saskatchewan highways. “Looking for Tamra Keepness Along the Number 1” by Carle Steel was the most enjoyable personal essay I have read for a…

Muskwa-Kechika Dayenu
JackPine Press / 1 April 2011

Muskwa-Kechika Dayenu Written and Illustrated by Dorothy Field Published by JackPine Press Reviewed by Kris Brandhagen $35 ISBN: 978-0-9782248-8-2 The poems in Dorothy Field’s Muskwa-Kechika Dayenu are physically about a journey in the Muskwa-Kechika mountains, and emotionally about grief. Pages of vivid poetry are stacked with imagery of prairie flora and fauna. “Dayenu” (pronounced Die-A-New) is Hebrew for ‘it would have been enough,’ a Passover song of gratitude. The first poem, “Transcribing Loon,” continues in a numbered sequence throughout the book, wherein the narrator recognizes sorrow and grief in the ‘sobbing’ of the loon. There are inteteresting colour combinations in “Before the Burn,” from an excited exploration of green to the “ravishing / red heat, blaze,” until the trees are black and the soil “charred”, suggesting destruction. The poem, however, comes full circle, describing the green of new life. “Into the Alpine” takes us on a mountain journey, suggesting that grief is “a glacial run-off”. “Past the end of trees,” into the alpine, grief is offered as a gift for the sky. The poem also suggests rebirth at the end with “I stretched my hand for willow fluff on taut bone stalks, / tough skeletons already supporting next year’s bloom”….

A Homemade Life
JackPine Press / 14 December 2010

A Homemade Life by Michael Trussler Published by JackPine Press Review by Kris Brandhagen Price: $35 ISBN: Gorgeous, personal, drawing up memories that conjure loss, Michael Trussler’s A Homemade Life is comprised of black and white photos and text, each a postcard unit to be rearranged on the whim of the reader. Presented in a box with a clear cover the handmade, limited edition book looks just like a package of postcards. Trussler proves himself to be well versed in the conventions of photography. The title image is a beach scene with a woman, made headless by the framing of the photograph, holding onto a leashed dog in the grassy foreground while behind them is a couple sunning themselves on lawn chairs in the sandy middle ground. The edge of a body of water is visible in the background. Intriguingly, all the figures are situated facing the photographer and not, as one might normally expect, the water. In almost perfect thirds, and with lots of windy motion, it is a successful photographic composition and a stunning hook. About twelve postcard pages in, just as I was beginning to wonder if there was a textual element to this book, the poetry…

The Forest Horses
Coteau Books / 29 October 2010

The Forest Horses by Byrna Barclay Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $21.00 ISBN 978-1-55050-447-7 Spanning decades, Byrna Barclay’s The Forest Horses is an unconventional love story, a passionate tale set in Russia, Sweden, and Canada. The tale is comprised of four stories intertwined: Pytor is a Russian horse thief who abducts Lena–a Swedish teenager–along with a herd of forty ponies which are the forest horses of the title. Eventually they marry, and daughter Signe is born to Pytor and Lena, as they lead a pony caravan carrying food to the starving, and evacuating refugees from war torn Leningrad during the German siege in 1941. Maryushka, Pytor’s sister, ‘does her part for her country;’ and the reader is exposed to an evocative and detailed description of the denigration of her life and Leningrad. Barclay seamlessly works in historical detail through Maryushka, a worker for the war effort who spends her days on an assembly line. From fear of being accused of treason, Maryushka works herself to the bone for a country that cannot provide her with food: “Food. That’s all the women at work ever talk about now: what’s for supper tonight, how hungry they still are, till…

Anton
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 13 September 2010

Anton by Dale Eisler Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Kris Brandhagen $22.95 ISBN 978-1-894431-46-0 Dale Eisler’s Anton is a perfect marriage of insight and history. The writing is intelligent; addressing the problems of memory, physical memory, exile, extreme circumstances and lack of geographical identity using the conventions of autobiography. The story of Anton and his best friend is well designed, intensely layered, a refreshing mix of show and tell. Such rich detail! As a reader, I felt as if Eisler reached into my mind and revealed that I already know the universal human truth. The narrator, Anton, is Eisler’s grandfather, as a four-year-old boy whose first memory is seeing his mother cry, and thus crying too. When his mother picks him up, he “remember[s] the smell of her dress like it was yesterday. We always washed our clothes in a large wooden tub in the backyard and used lye soap that smelled like lemon. Mom’s dress smelled like lemon that morning”. The writing is tidy, sensual; as a reader not only can I see, but I can taste, smell, touch. This also, being the first day Anton retains in memory, is what he refers to as the…