Review: ‘Sharps,’ Northumberland Daily

^^^^^^ is an Egyptian heiroglyph that can have a number of meanings. The word “waves” in English would be one but it can also be translated as the letter “n” or used as a preposition.

Realizing that most people would never know all that, the publisher has kindly provided – in square brackets on the book’s spine – the word [SHARPS] so we can say that as the title.

The peculiarity doesn’t end there. Open the book to where copyright info, publisher, date, title, etc. is usually seen and instead there is a full page poem. And what a trippy, powerful piece it is! It opens with King Tut, “dead at nineteen, before purpose” then the poet avoids murder by Volkswagen driven by her man, reminisces about hot knives and a doctor as well as finding that her “ex-love became security guard, a bored protector of goods against longing.” She ends by “believing I can spell-cast superstition into art.”

Howell’s poetry in this collection provides a wide sampling of theme and content. There is nothing, it seems, that cannot be enriched with her sensibilities. A keen perception matched with clever composition brings exciting images, as in a poem titled The Last Dollar Show, “When the last Roll Up the Rim to Win serves up its last lying sorry.”

She makes a call that “there ought to be names for qualities of silence, as the Inuit don’t have for snow.” Qualities of silence. Stevie Howell explores the current reality with the qualities of cultural dissonance.

In her poem Outpatient Methadone Pharmacy: Help Wanted, she details these users of methadone in visceral detail, the monthly cheque runs, the dealers and the “ghostly ones.” It ends with “The meth pharmacy pays high, but has retention issues; it’s hiring again. It’s one thing to do one thing well. It’s another to do only one thing, ever.”

Of Glass and Men is wonderfully unsettling writing about Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of plastination and “reanimated health porn” while “Museums took the ticket price.” The horror settles in as we are informed “Don’t you know the dead are always volunteers. His plant in Dalian, China, near a prison, ahem, was in trouble.”

Another piece, Fear is a World, is a delight to read aloud. The cadence, rhythm, a loose rhyme scheme, and systematic repetition of entire lines brings out the sinister in the poem, rendering the eerie as a beautiful background to a slaughter: “In ER, a tumour could be mistaken for a sebaceous cyst. Fear is a world, and the world is foreclosed.”

^^^^^^ is a debut book of verse for Stevie Howell of Toronto. This is not the poetry of a novice, but of a woman who has tightly refined her craft while respecting the possibilities of language.


Original review posted here.


Arc Confederation Prize

Arc cover
My poem, “Ballad of Blood Hotel” just won the Arc Poetry Magazine Confederation Prize, in Arc Summer 2015. The poem is in my book and will also be in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology coming out this fall. It’s about this really random time I was asked to help a friend-of-a-friend on a film about Bill Callahan, even though I didn’t have any experience. Or perhaps because I didn’t…

I love this new issue of Arc for reasons that have nothing to do with me–so many truly talented pals/forces of nature in there including Giles Benaway, Anna Swanson, Zachariah Wells, Shane Neilson, Pearl Pirie, Emily McGiffin, Phoebe Wang, and Kerry-Lee Powell. Bonus artwork by the supergreat Andrew Salgado.