Live Ones
University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

Live Onesby Sadie McCarneyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776500 I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the decades, and have developed a kind of ritual before I read a single word of the text proper. Today Charlottetown poet Sadie McCarney’s first book, Live Ones, is under inspection. A book is a reverent thing. Firstly, I turn it in my hands, and study the front and back covers. McCarney’s slim cream-coloured volume is adorned with a small purple graphic, Winged Skull / Memento Mori, by artist Susan Crawford. What does this image suggest about the poems? There will be sorrow – quite possibly death – addressed within these pages. I flip to the back, read the publisher’s blurb, any other blurbs (usually provided by accomplished writers), and biographical notes about the author. Here I learn that McCarney’s book “grapples with mourning, coming of age, and queer identity against the backdrop of rural and small-town Atlantic Canada.” First books often cast a wide net. Next I check the author’s birth year (just curious), if available; her Acknowledgments (where these poems previously appeared – impressive); and finally, I scan the individual titles in the Contents. Titles interest me….

Forty-One Pages
University of Regina Press / 10 April 2019

“Forty-One Pages: On Poetry, Language and Wilderness”by John Steffler Published by University of Regina Press Reviewed by Toby A. Welch $21.95 ISBN 9780889775879 I have a confession to make: this Forty-One Pages intimidated me. After finishing the introduction, I shook my head. I could not have put into words the gist of what I’d read. I took a breath and dove back in. I was rewarded with a glimpse into a completely different way of looking at writing and language. I felt like an alien whose ship touched down on the Saskatchewan prairies – discombobulated yet awestruck. The entire book continued in this vein. It challenged ideals I’d never questioned before, opening my eyes to a multitude of previously unthought-of possibilities. Even though I am a writer, I’ve never given as much thought to writing and language as I did while devouring this book. Steffler delves deeply into those themes from all directions. The history of language and the history of words are covered in detail. He even compares the parallels between writing and photography, between the camera and language. Engaging with words on a page is a theme that runs throughout the book. It is an enormous thought, especially…

For the Changing Moon
Thistledown Press / 10 January 2019

For the Changing Moon by Anna Marie Sewell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-168-6 I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess. In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of linebreaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer”. Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon. Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, ie: “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of…

Steeps of Time, The
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 6 December 2018

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings by Victor Carl Friesen Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Reviewed by Ben Charles $25.00 ISBN 9781988783222 The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is the latest publication from legendary Saskatchewan poet Victor Carl Friesen and his fourth collection of poems and accompanying paintings, both of which produce warm, nostalgic, and detailed recollections of the beautiful nature found in Saskatchewan and of life on the farm. Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, this riveting collection of fifty-five poems is separated into two portions that each illustrate different themes in the author’s life. The first section, titled “A Burgeoning”, is comprised mainly of descriptive, traditional poetry that, as mentioned, describes natural phenomenon and rural life in Saskatchewan. The latter section, titled “The World Illuminated”, is far more abstract and delves into the emotions, opinions, and outlooks on life of the author. In both segments Friesen showcases his uncanny descriptive abilities that immediately transport the reader to the bountiful natural beauty found in Saskatchewan. While reading such poems as “A Leaf in the Wind” or “Spring’s Regalia”, I was reminded of times being out in the fields while hiking or hunting, appreciating the beauty of…

Horses, Dogs and Wives
DriverWorks Ink / 15 November 2018

Horses, Dogs and Wives by Bryce Burnett Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-44-9 A cowboy needs three things – his horse, a dog, and a wife. This is according to Bryce Burnett, author of Horses, Dogs and Wives, a collection of rhyming cowboy poems and short stories with a good dose of humour throughout. Burnett points out that he has several horses and numerous dogs, but only one wife, whom, he admits, he embarrasses with his poems. Horses, Dogs and Wives is divided into four sections – one each on horses, dogs, and wives, plus a bonus section for good measure. He also includes several quotes by American cowboy humorist Will Rogers. Burnett’s poems cover a variety of horses, from quarter horses, unbroken rodeo horses, even a rocking horse, to those bound for the processing plant. He shows the dangers of being thrown off a horse. In the section on canine friends, Burnett speaks about the pride of training a dog, although one might wonder who is training whom. But with a well-trained dog, he points out, there’s really no need for a hired hand. In “Puppy Love,” Burnett writes from a dog’s point of…

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly
University of Regina Press / 29 August 2018

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly edited by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-542-8 kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly, referring to the area now known as Saskatchewan, has something for every taste, especially those with an appreciation of Indigenous literature. It’s an eclectic mix of stories, poetry, historical documents, and creative nonfiction. Inspired by an anthology of Indigenous writing in Manitoba, editor Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber undertook a similar project in Saskatchewan. This ambitious anthology is the result. kisiskâciwan follows a variety of themes – treaties, residential schools, conflict, women and families, everyday life, First Nations culture – all written by Indigenous people. These include members of the five main First Nations cultural groups in the province – Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota, Dakota, and Dene – as well as Lakota and Métis This anthology is the first time a collection of writing by Saskatchewan Indigenous authors has been assembled. It contains significant historical material by such notable Indigenous personalities as Poundmaker, Big Bear, Piapot, Sitting Bull, Louis Riel, and Gabriel Dumont. It also contains important historical documentation predating the colonial period. It’s amazing that such…

Sedley
Coteau Books / 10 August 2018

Sedley by Chelsea Coupal Published by Coteau Books Review by Ben Charles ISBN 9781550509410 $17.95 Sedley, written by Chelsea Coupal, is a delightful and insightful reflection of life in small-town Saskatchewan that had me smiling from the first page to the last. This collection of poems that Coupal has so masterfully penned is a wonderful commentary of the author’s life and experiences growing up in the town of Sedley, SK, a small village located forty kilometres South-East of Regina, SK. When people think of life in small-town Saskatchewan they usually conjure images of tractors consuming the entire highway, dusty farmyards, abandoned movie theatres, and the antics of the characters from Corner Gas. While some of these themes are present, Coupal also captures the magic, beauty, tragedy, and inexplicable weirdness that come with growing up in rural Saskatchewan. As I was born and raised in a small village in Saskatchewan myself, I could not help but feel nostalgic and chuckle as I read such poems as, “The Drive Home”, or “Party”. Coupal’s eerily accurate descriptions of remedies to teenage boredom reminded me of my own young misadventures getting in trouble at parties, driving aimlessly on the grid roads, talking smack about…

breathing at dusk
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

breathing at dusk by Beth Goobie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 9-781550-509151 Beth Goobie, poet and fiction writer, is her own hard act to follow. With twenty-five books – including the Governor General-nominated young adult novel Mission Impossible – preceding her latest title, readers have come to expect work that sets the bar high in terms of both content and technique. In breathing at dusk, Goobie’s 2017 poetry collection with Coteau Books, the Saskatoon writer again addresses some difficult themes – chiefly childhood sexual abuse – and delivers work that pours light on the darkness of her own Ontario childhood, while reconciling – often through music and nature – that it’s possible to heal from the unthinkable. I scan the Contents page and note three titles which might be considered taglines for Goobie’s work, present and past: “the other face,” “living with what remained,” and “the mind coming home to itself”. In this and previous books she reveals that her Christian father – a piano teacher – prostituted her from an early age, and that incest, violence, being drugged, and participating in religious cult-like activities were her childhood norm. As with “talk therapy,” writing…

Blackbird Song

Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-775572 It’s been a fair while since the poetry-reading public’s heard from writer and University of Regina (Campion College) professor Randy Lundy, but the outstanding blurbs on his third poetry collection, Blackbird Song, will definitely whet the appetites of his fans, and they should draw several new readers to these spare, contemplative poems scored with birds, prairie memories, and the moon in many different incarnations. Top Canadian poets like Lorna Crozier (“Wow, I say again and again”), Patrick Lane (he includes Lundy among “the masters”), and Don McKay (“visionary”) sing sweet praises, and Linda Hogan writes that these poems “are grounded constellations created of fire and ice”. When senior poets’ blurbs are poetry in and of themselves, you know you’re doing something right. And Lundy is certainly doing something right. Firstly, he’s turning inward, and asking questions both of himself and the universe that may be unanswerable, ie: “are you waiting for the appearance of that something whose appearance/would be its own vanishing?”. He’s creating unique images and juxtaposing words in fresh ways. Some of these poems are brief and reminiscent of…

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust Written by Edward Willett, Illustrated by Wendi Nordell Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783178 Prolific Regina writer Edward Willett took a great idea and ran with it, and the result is his first collection of poems, I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust, a collection of twenty-one fantastical poems with illustrations by his niece, Albertan Wendi Nordell. That initial great idea? It began with former SK Poet Laureate Gerald Hill’s 2016 “first lines” project, in which he e-mailed the first two lines from poems by two SK writers each week day in April and invited all Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild members to use them as springboards for new poems. Willett embraced the challenge, and the result is this creative, entertaining, and occasionally spine-tingling collection of poems that no one but Willett – well-known for authoring sixty books, including twenty science fiction and fantasy novels – could pull off. Willett claims a life-long love affair with poetry, but admits he’s not known as a poet. The man is a story-teller, through and through, thus it’s not surprising that each of these poems tells a miniature story, many with an apocalyptic or space-based…