Vivid verse from trio of Man­i­toba poets

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

I Nthe Tiger Park (Coteau, 72 pages, $17) is Win­nipeg’s Ali­son Calder’s fol­lowup to her de­but Wolf Tree, which won two Man­i­toba Book Awards. Calder’s po­ems are spare and stark, tak­ing an un­sen­ti­men­tal ap­proach to a nat­u­ral world that, his­tor­i­cally, is so­cially con­structed, po­et­i­cally ro­man­ti­cized and bru­tally un­done. Calder wor­ries over this po­etic ob­ses­sion, and how to tackle the sub­ject with­out step­ping into the com­mon traps. One poem be­gins with “F--k off, moon! Get out of my po­ems,” while an­other, about the po­lar bear cub Knut, starts off: “He’s a psy­chopath, like Brit­ney Spears.” In a dif­fer­ent poem, about the frus­tra­tions of writ­ing it­self, Calder uses an­i­mals as metaphors for the fail­ure of her metaphors. Sub­tle, wry and self-con­scious in the best sense, the po­ems wres­tle with them­selves as they strug­gle to­wards the sublime. Ariel Gor­don is an­other Win­nipeg au­thor and Man­i­toba Book Award win­ner avoid­ing the sopho­more slump with Stow­aways (Palimpsest, 96 pages, $19). Gor­don, like Calder, os­cil­lates rapidly be­tween light-heart­ed­ness and melan­choly, al­though Gor­don has al­most baked irony into these po­ems by struc­tur­ing many as du­bi­ous in­struc­tions for po­ten­tially use­ful skills. “When the zom­bie apoca­lypse comes, your tip­pity-tap skills will be on par with those who can kill re­morse­lessly,” notes Gor­don in How to Learn Morse Code. In How to Soften Fa­cial Scars, by com­par­i­son, Gor­don aban­dons any jok­i­ness to de­scribe a woman whose “face [is] an abused en­ve­lope, / her­self a scented page / you will never put down.” “You will never see her again, but you will be Face­book™ friends for­ever,” writes Gor­don in How to Tell if Some­one is Dead, a poem that basks in both reg­is­ters. Adept and as­sured, Stow­aways swag­gers. Stein­bach’s Luann Hiebert de­buts with What Lies Be­hind (Turn­stone, 94 pages, $17). Brim­ming with word­play rem­i­nis­cent of her edi­tor, Den­nis Coo­ley, Hiebert’s lines are sim­i­larly ex­u­ber­ant. She de­lights in crash­ing words and im­ages against one an­other, to ob­serve how they break. This be­comes poignant in po­ems where the tech­nique mir­rors the theme, as in a poem about eco­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion where waste piles of “dis­carded news­pa­pers / di­luted head­lines de­claim // re­sources city wastes / city wastes re­sources…” Hiebert then re­cy­cles the phrase into new vari­a­tions. As these new­pa­pers re­cy­cle their ou­trage, while the re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als rot, Hiebert re­news the lan­guage in po­ems full of en­ergy and verve. Hamil­ton’s Marc di Save­rio of­fers one of the strong­est de­buts of late in San­i­to­rium Songs (Palimpsest, 72 pages, $19). Pri­mar­ily col­lect­ing son­nets, vil­lanelles, haiku and trans­la­tions, di Save­rio shows a stun­ning com­mand of these forms and a talent for star­tling im­agery. His trans­la­tions (of Rim­baud, Baude­laire and oth­ers) are mas­ter­ful, while his orig­i­nal po­ems show a clear sym­bol­ist in­flu­ence and a sharp, se­vere mu­si­cal­ity. “Wasped in spite you whip your arm and the wind / you break waves a mo­ment’s light of your halo-sheer care.” The verb “wasped” is es­pe­cially har­row­ing here, while else­where “dew-dropped ox-eye daisies glower.” There’s some­thing alien and for­bid­ding in the dense land­scape of these po­ems, which cut like stone knives. Win­nipeg English pro­fes­sor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanball­com) lives on­line at, where he writes

about writ­ing the wrong way.

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