New ti­tles to try for po­etry lovers

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - BARB CAREY Bar­bara Carey is a Toronto writer, and the Toronto Star’s po­etry colum­nist.

Other Houses

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.

Lim­i­nal

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.

Comma

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.”

BRICK BOOKS

Other Houses, by Kate Cay­ley, Brick Books, 60 pages, $20.

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