New titles to try for poetry lovers
By Kate Cayley Brick Books, 60 pages, $20 Toronto writer Kate Cayley’s second book of poetry is a collection that puts an odd but striking tilt on a range of subjects. Many of these spare, coolly luminous poems portray characters from folk tales or historical figures associated with the power of illusion; or, as she puts it dryly in one poem, “the chicanery that lends itself to art.” Her own poetic sleight of hand is subtly on display in a suite of poems called “The Library of the Missing,” a contemplation of loss and the narratives we construct around artifacts. She tends to be oblique, but she can also be affectingly forthright: “if prayer is a way to see ghosts, I’ll pray,” she writes in an elegy for a friend.
By Jordan Mounteer Sono Nis Press, 160 pages, $15.95
In the first poem in this debut collection, Jordan Mounteer writes of “an inclination of the heart/to track its bearing in the world.” That’s exactly what these restless, lyrical meditations do, whether reflecting on the turning tides of love, his many global ports of call (from Japan to Ecuador) or his home territory of British Columbia’s Slocan Valley. Mounteer’s phrasing is colourful and evocative, especially when describing the natural world. He conveys the brute violence of clear-cuts in a series of poems about tree-planting, writing of “a knot of slash, angles of fragged larch” and the tracks of logging trucks “wended into bald slopes like fissures/in the skull.” If he occasionally overreaches with his figurative language, his unabashed romanticism is still disarming in our irony-inflected times.
A Place Called No Homeland
By Kai Cheng Thom Arsenal/Pulp Press, 88 pages, $14.95
This debut collection by Toronto spoken-word artist Kai Cheng Thom is impassioned testimony, fiercely polemical and often raw, on the charged subject of identity. Many of the poems chronicle a forlorn longing to feel connected to the “sun-tinted histories” of her Chinese heritage while wrestling with feelings of shame and rejection as a “girlboy, “and struggling with the internalization of self-hatred. There are hard-hitting observations that strike home; as Thom puts it plaintively in one poem about the “private battlefield” of a love affair: “Why is it fear/ stops us from hurting each other/ and love seems to do the opposite?” Elsewhere, Thom confronts not only homophobia (“I’d like to wear heels in public/but I’d also like to live” is how one man puts it) but also the violence and racism inside the gay community.
By Jennifer Still BookThug, unpaginated, $20 For six years Jennifer Still’s brother was in a coma, and the Winnipeg poet read his handwritten notebook of prairie plants “for companionship, signs of consciousness, attention.” His text and drawings are the foundation of “Comma,” her compelling third book of poetry. (The typeface — in all bold but one letter “m” in regular face — reflects both “coma” and the pause of the punctuation mark.) Still replicates pages from that notebook but selectively deletes words, leaving delicate, fragmentary evidence of a flickering presence. Breath is a recurring motif, as a sign of life. In the section “Papery Acts,” Still muses on the act of writing, quoting extensively from other writers and examining her own practice in the face of grief. As she puts it, “I am listening for where the poem and life crossover.”
Other Houses, by Kate Cayley, Brick Books, 60 pages, $20.