Star Poems, The: acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 25 January 2024

The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative/acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin”by Jesse Rae Archibald-BarberPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9781778690174 It’s innovative, bilingual, and gives us another kind of Genesis. The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative/acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin is a Cree/English poetry collection by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber, a Regina writer, editor and professor of Indigenous Literatures at the First Nations University of Canada. Archibald-Barber has ingeniously combined traditional Indigenous creation stories—The Star stories—with quantum physics, and the result is a star-studded collection of eye-opening poems. The author essentially contemporizes Cree oral tradition stories (that “teach us how we are all related to Creation through the same source of energy and spirit”) by spinning them into poems that merge with the “spiritual and scientific understandings of the cosmos and the quantum foundations of reality”. He cites Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear’s talk on quantum physics and Indigenous spirituality as a major inspiration, particularly Little Bear’s discussion on “how the quantum superstrings are what Indigenous cultures have traditionally called spirit”. He also laud’s Cree educator Wilfred Buck’s video, “Legend of the Star People,” which describes the “Hole-in-the-Sky—a ‘spatial anomaly’ or a ‘wormhole’ that leads to and…

2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poems
Welcome Home Publishing / 12 January 2024

2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poemsby Sheri HathawayWelcome Home PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$13.19 ISBN 9781738822348 I like to be surprised. Upon receiving the slim poetry collection 2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poems by Saskatoon’s Sheri Hathaway, I noted the book’s short, back cover description: “This is a mother-daughter project containing verse from two women of very different pasts,” and I fully expected that Hathaway—a grandmother of eight—had collaborated with a daughter on this collection of prairie-based poems. I was wrong. This book actually features the work of Hathaway and her mother, Louise (McLean) Hathaway, a former teacher who experienced the Great Depression and World War II. The elder poet died in 2009. Her daughter explains that she “didn’t know [her] mother wrote any poems,” but Sheri discovered them after her mother’s death “In her boxes of books, papers, photos and diaries”. Another surprise: both poets had published work in local publications. The book mostly features Sheri Hathaway’s work; eight poems were penned by her mother, one of which, “Heart Cry,” is a fine example of showing emotion, rather than stating it. It begins: “Snow covers all./The brown mound of cloggy earth,/Our spray of mums,/gold, russet, and bronze for October,/The…

Wounded Hearts Take a Chance
Endless Sky Books / 19 July 2023

Wounded Hearts Take a Chanceby Debbie QuigleyPublished by Endless Sky BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$9.99 ISBN 9781989398722 Wounded Hearts Take A Chance is an attractive book with a positive message: women can recover from intense heartbreak and love again. Written by Debbie Quigley, a “retired healthcare worker” who writes “simple and real” poetry in what she calls her “whisper-art form,” this 28-page softcover is a poetic self-help read for those “whose wounded hearts have been shattered into pieces, those who are afraid to take a chance on loving another man”. Across pages topped with light floral graphics, Quigley unfolds the narrative of a woman who has been “Keeping walls around her heart” and “Drying her own tears,” but, she writes, “Gazing at the stars at night” and “Holding a warm hand” are what “We all want,” and she encourages the reader to “Let someone in [their] life!”. The thirteen free verse poems are ordered chronologically as a new relationship blossoms, beginning with a “first-glance attraction” that results in a dinner date. After this, “Exhilarated excitement enters her focus/Words of trust being built/Each word a brick of trust/Bringing her to the point of slowly tearing down the walls/around her heart”. Once…

Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushions, The

The Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushionsby Counce BramptonPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9781988783994 They say it’s about the journey, not the reward. In the literary world, the reward might be considered the publication of a book. For Saskatoon poet Counce Brampton, a “quiet observer of life” who’s lived most of his adulthood in a group home (as a result of OCD and other mental health issues), my sense is that it’s always been about the journey, yet his first poetry collection, The Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushions, has been published, and it opens with a generous introduction by his friend and mentor, internationally-revered writer Yann Martel. Martel began meeting with Brampton when the former was serving as writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library twenty years ago. The Life of Pi author quickly gleaned that Brampton wasn’t seeking “editorial guidance but affirmation and validation”. Martel continues to provide that today, and explains that “This book is the result of a wish to safeguard what is essentially Counce Brampton’s life work, the mark he will leave”. Interestingly, the poems appear next to images of their first incarnations, handprinted in Brampton’s coiled notebook….

History Forest, The

The History Forestby Michael TrusslerPublished by University of Regina PressReview 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…

Phases
Shadowpaw Press / 4 April 2023

Phasesby Belinda BetkerPublished by Shadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Michelle Shaw$17.99 ISBN 9781989398449 Phases, a debut poetry collection by Saskatoon poet Belinda Betker, beautifully captures the stages and transformations of one woman’s life. It unravels like a journey that begins in childhood and culminates in the “triumphant release of coming out and the liberating power of drag.” Along the way Belinda reflects on stereotypes, conformity and society’s expectations. She captures distinct moments in time with an exquisite touch and an often-soul penetrating choice of words. And while one’s instinctive response is to read it as memoir, Belinda notes that not all the poems are strictly autobiographical. I marvelled at the accuracy of her descriptions and the accessibility and emotional intensity of her words. The book is divided into four sections, each describing a particular lunar phase. I was so fascinated by the terms: Saros Cycle, Grazing Occultation, Perigee Syzygy and Orbital Eccentricity, that of course I had to look them up. The explanations gave such an added dimension to the poems in each section, which I imagine was Belinda’s intent. As I’m sure each definition is open to interpretation, I encourage you to look them up yourself! I also learned a…

Beautiful Rebellion, A
Thistledown Press / 31 March 2023

a beautiful rebellionby Rita BouvierPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9781771872348 I took an extended pause before opening a beautiful rebellion, the fourth poetry collection by Saskatoon’s Rita Bouvier. The Métis writer and educator grew up beside the Churchill River, and the cover photo of a forceful river flowing between forested banks before a backdrop of white sky is immensely effective. To me, the scene says: Yes, this is the answer to all that ails us. This is holy. Indeed, a sense of reverence permeates much of the work in this moving and intimate collection, with its odes to jack pine, bear, the moon, aunties and other relatives, and “feathery snowflakes/whirling down from the heavens above”. One of my favourite pieces, “holy, holy, holy,” ingeniously juxtaposes “waves crashing against the rocky shoreline” with “God/reaching in and then out again”. Bouvier’s narrator in “daylight thief at Amigos Café” watches the other patrons-including a dancing child-and considers herself “a thief … in broad daylight/stealing the sacred … all around me.” This careful poet continually turns to the natural world for restoration and peace as she considers colonialism, patriarchy, “the murky waters of truth and reconciliation,” climate change and the…

Not Here to Stay
Off The Field Publishing / 4 January 2023

Not Here To Stayby Jesse A. MurrayPublished by Off the Field PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.99 ISBN 9-781775-194682 Frank Sinatra famously sang “I did it my way,” and Saskatchewan teacher and writer Jesse A. Murray can echo this sentiment when it comes to Not Here To Stay, which echoes the themes of alienation, unworthiness, freedom, loneliness and a fierce desire to be remembered that Murray explored in his earlier self-published poetry collection, I Will Never Break. The book’s black cover is overlaid with a white cityscape, as if we’re seeing city lights on a dark night. This is symbolic, as throughout this book Murray jumps between dark and light musings—some as short as a single line, several just two or three lines—and in his Introduction he discusses his search to find a place where he felt he belonged as he wrote these poems. “I found myself in many different places, and I always knew that I wasn’t there to stay.” After two months in Nashville, he saw “what it was like for people that followed their dreams.” This collection reads like an intimate journal. It’s to be noted, however, that Murray includes the disclaimer that “This book is a work…

Falls Into Place
Off The Field Publishing / 16 December 2022

Falls Into Placeby Jesse A. MurrayPublished by Off the Field PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.99 ISBN 9-781777-591328 Saskatoon writer and teacher Jesse A. Murray recently released his sixth book, the poetry collection Falls Into Place. While many writers toil several years over a single book, this prolific writer has self-published five poetry collections between 2020 and 2022—this could be a record! As the title suggests, his poems just seem to “fall into place,” and this proved especially true during the global pandemic. “When the pandemic hit, my life changed. My writing changed. I had to work from home … I started to go through all of my piles of writing that I hadn’t looked at in years,” he states, and says that most of the poems in this book were written “before bed”. Transitions also included a new job, a marriage, and impending fatherhood. I’m familiar with Murray’s work via two of his other poetry collections—I Will Never Break and Not Here To Stay—and find many similarities here. Physically, they’re large poetry collections, and the oft-rhyming poems tend toward introspection—and, specifically, not quite measuring up to the yardstick the narrator’s set for himself. The first several poems hint at a…

Go
Radiant Press / 27 July 2022

Goby Shelley A. LeedahlPublished by Radiant PressReview by Elena Bentley$20.00 ISBN 9781989274675 How often do we find a book of poetry in which a poet generously invites us in, like a long-time friend, to sit down and catch up? Not often. But in Go, Shelley A. Leedahl’s beautifully crafted fifth collection of poetry, the decades “dissolve / as mysteriously as mist” as Leedahl describes a life spent untethered to person or place and the loneliness that accompanies it. Friends give you all the important details, and so does Go: the messiness of lovers, the grief of losing a parent, the seemingly insignificant significance of gladiolus, salmonberries, and bald eagles. Go is open and honest in a way I’ve rarely experienced in a collection of poems. And I appreciate that Leedahl doesn’t sugar-coat or romanticize loneliness: “I may forever come home / to an empty house […] me with my pathetic need / to hold another warm hand, / to be whispered to across a pillow.” She acknowledges her desire for companionship, and I find it a refreshing confession. Keeping an “[e]ar to the pane,” Leedahl uses windows as a clever literary device with which to reflect on her past. “I…