Re­work­ing Old English poem makes mov­ing de­but

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - By Jonathan Ball

GUELPH’S Shannon Maguire de­buts with the wry fur(l) para­chute (BookThug, 112 pages, $18), which sub­jects the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer to bizarre per­mu­ta­tions through ex­per­i­men­tal trans­la­tion. Maguire trans­mutes the 19-line frag­ment by break­ing its back across a va­ri­ety of con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ences, rang­ing from fly fish­ing to the Mup­pets. “Mis­ter Wulf, send your crows / let them carry away my undi­gested books, the years / with my en­trails.” Maguire’s “trans­la­tions” work best when they hew close to the tone of the poem, while stretch­ing its mean­ing across a cul­tural gap. An im­pres­sive range of ap­proaches and tech­niques is on dis­play in Maguire’s collection, de­spite its nar­row fo­cus, to sug­gest the mul­ti­plic­ity at the heart of hu­man iden­tity and en­deav­our. The chang­ing ways we break and rebuild our­selves, through our lan­guage and its en­coun­ters with the world, sets the stage for the strange theatre of Maguire’s book. Mon­treal’s Joséphine Ba­con, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker and a song­writer for Chloé Sainte-Marie, pub­lished her first po­etry collection in a bilin­gual edi­tion of French and Innu-aimun. Now trans­lated into a bilin­gual English/Innu-aimun edi­tion by Phyl­lis Aronoff, Mes­sage Sticks/ Tshiss­in­u­at­shi­takana (TSAR, 134 pages, $22) con­denses spare, pow­er­ful in­sights about tra­di­tional Innu cul­ture with Ba­con’s laments about en­vi­ron­men­tal and cul­tural de­spoil­ment. “Where have the trees gone / that were grow­ing when / I was grow­ing up?” asks Ba­con in one poem. Ear­lier, she pro­vides one kind of an­swer: “Pa­pakas­siku [the cari­bou Mas­ter] is an­gry, / his bones are scat­tered, / he no longer an­swers / dreams.” Penn­syl­va­nia’s Ron Sil­li­man, late in an in­flu­en­tial ca­reer, has em­barked on an am­bi­tious project: to write a 360-book poem called Uni­verse that will take him at least 300 years to com­plete. Reve­la­tor (BookThug, 78 pages, $20) is a strong start, and plays with the epic qual­i­ties of Sil­li­man’s ab­surd project. De­spite its grandiose con­cept, the pro­ce­dure of Reve­la­tor is sim­ple: Sil­li­man wrote lines of five words each, free-as­so­ci­at­ing from line to line and com­po­si­tional mo­ment to mo­ment, un­til he filled a note­book. Reve­la­tor re­turns ob­ses­sively to a few im­ages and ideas, in­clud­ing po­etic stan­dards, and of­ten seems as much a med­i­ta­tion on con­ven­tional po­etic im­agery as on cap­i­tal­ism and death: “in a town so small / Safe­way has the lone Star­bucks / Even­tu­ally books ox­i­dize, words them­selves / learn to re­sist, clouds drift.” Reve­la­tor con­firms Sil­li­man’s con­tin­ued rel­e­vance while pro­vid­ing a good en­try point to his body of work. An­other de­but collection, Win­nipeg’s Me­lanie Den­nis Un­rau’s Hap­pi­ness Threads: The Un­born Po­ems (The Muses’ Com­pany, 96 pages, $16), ex­plores the strug­gle of a new mother to pre­serve a sense of iden­tity and in­di­vid­u­al­ity, rather than blandly as­sume a con­ven­tional so­cial role. The speaker moves be­tween ex­press­ing the sin­cere love moth­ers are sup­posed to ex­press, to us­ing po­etry to sub­vert nor­mal en­gage­ments in on­line dis­cus­sion groups, to re­fut­ing post-struc­tural­ist the­o­rists (those pesky La­ca­ni­ans!) and their at­tacks on per­ceived essen­tial­ism. The open­ing po­ems are the most af­fect­ing. The care­less ease with which many dis­cuss chil­dren, the thought­less as­sump­tion that any­one can have chil­dren with­out dif­fi­culty, and how this pro­duces feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy and fail­ure all un­der­write these early po­ems, mak­ing the joy in later sec­tions more poignant. The most heart­break­ing poem here, flatly ti­tled mis­car­riage, dis­plays Un­rau at her best: “you re­mem­ber the time / the boys down the street used hockey sticks / to knock a robin’s nest to the ground / & you cupped that lit­tle bird in your hands.” Win­nipeg English pro­fes­sor Jonathan Ball will launch his new book, John Paizs’s “Crime Wave” (Univer­sity of Toronto Press), at the Cine­math­eque on Feb. 28, fea­tur­ing a

film screen­ing and free ad­mis­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.