Criticism: “Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent” by Liz Howard

Infinite-Citizen-coverNote: I wrote this a book review months ago, but wanted to bump it up a bit because of some recent and amazing news. Liz Howard, the author of Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, just won the Griffin Poetry Prize for this book. She is the youngest recipient ever, and this year is the time the prize has been awarded to a first book. One of the great things about the Griffin is it draws readers — something I aimed to do in my own small way when I enthused about this groundbreaking book. 

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It’s been said that a book review is an exercise in both sympathy and competition. That is a combination that’s inherently fraught, and one that’s high among the reasons I’ve considered no longer reviewing books—but that was before I encountered Liz Howard’s first book of poetry, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. It’s in the most sympathetic and non-competitive spirit that I say you should read this, and it.

Part of Infinite Citizen’s success is the way it mends tensions: Howard is from northern Ontario, and moved to Toronto to obtain a degree in cognitive neuroscience. She moves between both systems with the trademark ease that comes from expertise: “If you are in need of an answer/consult a jiisakiiwinini/scientific rigor/psychoanalysis/the unconscious a construct.”

Jiisakiiwinini, according to the brief glossary, is a spiritual healer who conducts the shaking tent rite, and those lines are from a pivotal poem in the book, called “Thinktent,” which reads, in part:

the city bound me so I entered

to dream a science that would name me
daughter and launch beyond
grief, that old thoracic cause

myocardium: a blood-orange foundry
handed down by the humoral
anatomists and not be

inside my own head perpetually
not simply a Wittgenstein’s girl
but an infinite citizen in a shaking tent

This is inherently powerful because each of us, in our own way, needs to expand upon or construct a new umbrella. But a different power radiates from the phrasing (to borrow a musicological word, which I think is appropriate here). Her style of line breaks create a cantilever effect, transforming potential into kinetic energy at each turn.

Howard’s mastery isn’t only at the line level, but is holistic. Each poem has its own integrity and is in conscious communication with the rest. While it’s apparent the book has a central thesis, it doesn’t read as a “project”—it imparts no mental image that a tidy “to do” list was being struck through as each poem was drafted.

A poem called “Neural Cascade: A Chandelier of Forest Bones” opens with “Maybe I do know you”—at first glance an engagement with the reader. But the speaker is addressing an array of decomposing creatures in the woods. The poem trudges forward resolutely, where Howard ends:

my bad shoulder

to the floorboards
with adrenaline, a hare gone
to rut in the reverb of

precognition

let me live

The harrowing cry—“let me live”—has an urgent meaning not only for the narrator, but for all of us in our current political climate. The sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that “the personal is political,” but just as much, Howard makes the political personal.

In the poem “1992,” she writes about the memory of a childhood home, a duplex, “our welfare half,” where “logging trucks and trains/shake the foundation so/much I mistake them for God.” Howard’s book affirms there is no clear-cut way through points of intersectionality (i.e., gender, race, and class). And needing things to be clear-cut is perhaps its own issue.

Progress, after all, can be a convoluted and potentially oppressive notion—who gets to decide what is an appropriate way to live? Or a valuable goal to aim for? Who gets to name things we have to refer to? There are four poems in this book with the same title: “Standard Time.” They’re not equidistant and each is slightly longer than the last. All are tercets. Each is languid with memory—“the day with its pit between my teeth”—embodying a timelessness out of sync with man-made zones and boundaries.

Similarly, “Ring Sample: Addendum,” the penultimate poem (a poem I do wish had closed the book) is a “recombinative sonnet” that utilizes lines from the book’s first fourteen poems. The seamlessness of this poem adds to the book’s taut cohesiveness, its surface tension like water. But this technique is also a tool that morphs time and space, toys with the convention of form, and confronts the desire for resolution.

A line like “let the RICO of heaven come clean” is worth its weight in counterfeit, even if you need to Google the RICO Act to get it. And that brings me to another point: the actual language of this book could appear a potential hurdle for some readers. It shouldn’t be. Howard integrates vocabulary both from her cultural background and her formal education (as we all do), but aspects of both may be new here to some readers. It’s important to remember that easily searchable terms that appear (myocardium, thoracic) apply to all of us. They enhance our understanding not only of the poem but of our bodies and our world. What nature and biology and writing all share, Howard illustrates, is that they are great equalizers.

The best art evokes sympathy and admiration; competition simply cannot compute. Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is one of the most distinct, uncompromising, and rewarding books of Canadian poetry in recent memory. But don’t just take my word for it.

Original here.

 (Co-published in The Winnipeg Review, September 15, 2015 & CV2 #38, Fall 2015).

 

Review of Kate Tempest’s “Hold Your Own”

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My non-genetic twin Tim was recently venting frustration about his inability to sustain attention at poetry readings. He said: how can I be riveted by radio, or by podcasts, and not poetry? Shouldn’t poetry be affecting me at least similarly? Oration is a source of conflict for poets. It’s an afterthought, or a dead zone, or it can become the dreaded, affected “poet voice”—or worse.

Auden felt that to craft your delivery was a form of propaganda, and so read his work like a flatliner. Armitage was, for a while, a beggar-bard, trudging around, offering to read his work in bars, his survival semi-contingent on how well he entertained strangers. In my city (Toronto) the lyric and spoken word communities are two solitudes—both have plenty to say, but remain largely mute to each other. One group publishes precious broadsheets and chapbooks; the other ranks each other on and offstage, their currency CDs. 

The work of UK poet Kate Tempest is an exception to all these divisions. She won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for her first book, Brand New Ancients, and the 2014 Mercury Prize for her album, Everybody Down. She’s been christened a “Next Generation” poet and was featured on CBC’s The National for our parents to process while they floss. In short, she has united critical approval and crossover appeal. Much of this consensus is because her work harkens back to the Greek tradition, while being decidedly contemporary.

In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves….

That’s from her first book, Brand New Ancients, an epic poem published in 2013 and dedicated to working class neighbourhoods of England. Her new book, Hold Your Own (now out in North America) , is just as rooted in place at time, and she’s aided by new eyes—those of Tiresias, a cypher, who is an ancient, gender-bending, blind clairvoyant. 

In keeping with his/her life, Hold Your Own moves through four sections: childhood, womanhood, manhood, and blind profit (note: not “prophet”). The first portion of the book involves childhood recollections—small epiphanies, inebriation, self-harm, first loves, and other rites of passage. These poems show considerable talent and ability to surprise. Tales of being bullied, getting into fights, and lying to your parents are universal. But some of these poems slip into the simpler, more slight, or less poetic language of a writer’s younger self:

You sat beside me, finding new
ways to look away.
You kissed me. It was lighter fuel.
It burnt the night away.
And when I took my eyes off you
I saw that it was day.

The kiss as lighter fuel is a decent metaphor, though it doesn’t excuse rhyming away with away! Some of these stanzas are too tentative, or precious, and lack her distinctive flow. 

However, the book quickly gains force and intensity. Formally, the poems feature more rhyming than many of us are accustomed to in contemporary work, but Tempest integrates entertaining colloquialisms:

You stagger on regardless, 
Swaying in the street 
Summoning an oracle 
That can’t be arsed to meet. 

By darting between formal, casual, and slang speech, Tempest creates tension and sustains our interest. Tempest’s work is like water, not rope—at its best, it’s fluid, expansive, unpredictable. (At its worst, it can gush.) There is admirable control that results in many pleasing sonic (and hypervisual) moments, such as:

Snakes. Two snakes! 
Coiling, uncoiling 
Boiling and cooling 
Oil in a cauldron 
Foil in a river 
Soil on a mood ring.     

The fiercest poems in Hold Your Own deal with a broad range of contemporary issues, including soldiers with PTSD, global warming, and sexual violence. And the most moving poems circle back to Tiresias and his/her transitions—both as a body and a seer, which are of course metaphorical for Tempest’s own identity:

The boy in her is strong some days 
And calls out for a girl to touch 
The girl in her is full of rage 
And craves the things she hates so much. 

She must be more than sex and body? 
Sex and body’s all she’s got. 
Like all hard lessons, learn it softly. 
It only is until it’s not. 

This, like so much of Hold Your Own, is poignant, accomplished, and fresh. Tempest’s poems cross-cut categories—past vs. present, highbrow vs. lowbrow, male vs. female, page vs. stage, story vs. song. But what makes her voice so striking is her verve and daring. Surely, this book will prompt discussions about whether performance poetry translates to solitary reader and vice versa; but the skill she shows, and the risks she takes, create music out of the lyric. 

Tiresias’ ancient recommendation was to aspire toward the “life of the ordinary guy,” but Tempest cautions us: there is no such thing. Hold Your Own, as a project, is equally concerned with integrating the self and becoming resolved about being torn. These are things most of us are still working on, if we’re honest.

 

Originally published May 19, 2015, on Partisan.

America’s Sniper

Eastwood Block Parent (1)

Two nights ago, I was talking with some local artists about things that used to be cool and weren’t anymore—things we missed…. I told them that I missed “standing alone”—the whole idea that “standing alone” was an okay thing to do in a democracy. “Like High Noon,” I explained, and one of them said, “Oh, you could do that today…(pause for effect)…But first you’d have to form a Stand Alone Support Group!
—Dave Hickey, Air Guitar

THE CALCIFIED, DUSTY, cut-out figure we’ve come to know as “Clint Eastwood” is a product of the spaghetti western films of Sergio Leone: funhouse mirrors reflecting American culture back to itself. Leone rescued Eastwood, really, from the two-bit western TV show, Rawhide. The “man with no name,” as Eastwood’s character in the Dollars trilogy was called, was also a man of few phrases. He flipped his poncho up over his arm and killshot his way into our hearts. For half a century now, Eastwood has been America’s sniper.

Eastwood followed this iconic western role with an iconic urban one as Dirty Harry, from 1971–1988. A skinny Batman with bedhead, boiling over in a boiled wool blazer and preppy sweater vest, he flicked “thugs” into the gutters of San Francisco*. Better films were made about lone gunmen (e.g. Taxi Driver), but it was the low-brow, mass market Dirty Harry that precipitated the stingy, paranoid NRA-/DEA-fuelled, trickle-down spirit of the Reaganite ’80s. Everything from Bronson’s wiggy nihilist in Death Wish to Schwarzenegger’s slick, indestructible killing machine in Terminator can be spirographed back to Harry. If nothing else, his prototypical, applause-baiting, vengeful one-liner — “Go ahead, make my day” — ensured that future action heroes would arrive with a quotable calling card.

But race has always been the silent star of Eastwood’s work. In almost every film, one man’s value system is drilled into a series of non-compliant minority figures. His stoic characters always seem to stand alone. With his latest effort, American Sniper, the question is whether what Eastwood himself has immovably stood for has rendered him impotent, or whether his endurance has made him more relevant than ever. The answer could very well be both.

Being a director, like being a critic, is to sit in a position of authority, and directing made Eastwood more untouchable than his acting ever could have. And left him a tad out of touch. And then made him a target.

When Eastwood made the diptych Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, a red flag climbed its pole and a brief controversy fluttered: were these films too “balanced”? Did he demonize the Japanese enough? But he was redeemed by the Oscars, and non-voting critics went silent. The same thing goes for how he almost always mints box office gold.

In Gran Torino—named after the beloved car that co-stars—Eastwood’s character both resents and rescues his new Hmong neighbours from the worst element among themselves. The white man’s burden, redux.

When he spoke in 2012 at—where else—the Republican National Congress, he presented an empty chair as his metaphor for America’s first African-American president. He was resoundingly, and rightly, heckled by most of the planet. I worried for a while about disrespecting a possibly no-longer-with-it elder. But by then, I’d also already begun to mourn the fact that one of my cinematic icons—the man who showed it was safe, and maybe even cool, to stand alone—had likely always had some troubled views that could no longer be viewed as a joke. This brings us to his newest and most controversial work: the highest grossing war film of all time.

AMERICAN SNIPER IS the cinematic realization of the same-titled, self-aggrandizing autobiography written by sniper Chris Kyle, who proudly and from a safe distance put a bullet into 150+ “ragheads for Jesus” (in the words of Chris Hedges). Kyle also claimed to have voluntarily gone south to kill Hurricane Katrina looters. No one is certain that last bit of bragging is true—but chew for a moment on what kind of person you’d have to be to share that fantasy.

The film opens with a coded scene of a stern dinner-table Dad telling his son there are three kinds of people: “wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs.” It’s a line taken from a life, sure—but not his life. It comes from a decade-old book by Colonel David Grossman. But this is Eastwood’s masterful marketing: most of us recognize, and some of us get giddy on, the right-wing insinuations of liberal (read: anti-war) “sheeple.” The child is terrified of his father, but in his realm, terror is love. The echo of his father’s voice ultimately propels him into a rattling Mil Mi-26 on its way to Fallujah.

American Sniper is riddled with issues. The major glaring thing sure isn’t the plastic crying baby. It’s that Chris Kyle isn’t the self-effacing, “who’s counting?”, stoic sniper the movie portrays. He’s blood-thirsty. His book and the film are littered with the calibre of epithets we’ve ceased using against every other ethnicity on Earth.

If you haven’t seen the movie, or recent U.S. news, you’d be forgiven for assuming Kyle had been martyred by his job. But—spoiler alert—Kyle was killed by a friend and fellow second amendment enthusiast. On a Saturday at a Texas shooting range. For no reason.

In February, there were a few winded weeks, before the trial of Kyle’s assassin, when the film seemed to have enough critical mass to potentially capture the top Oscars. Texas christened a Chris Kyle day, and his legacy, and Eastwood’s vision, were starting to look inextricable. The outcome of the awards show was anti-climactic: the film won for best sound editing. People on Twitter said things like, “got to hand it to American Sniper—the sound on that film was SICK!”

WHEN CLINT EASTWOOD starred in and directed his masterpiece, Unforgiven (1992), Roger Ebert called it the western genre’s elegy. That wasn’t expressly true. The western isn’t so much about a specific time and place as it is about freedom’s enemies. Eastwood left America’s border in the able hands of locked-and-loaded militias, packed up the genre, and moved it offshore.

In a pivotal, biblical scene in Unforgiven, Eastwood stands in the scrub, his thinning quiff, like the plains around him, bowing in sync with the wind. And he says, flinching: “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” It kills me every time. But I still wonder, naively, how he could say those words and have played a killer for fifty years. But actors are paid to say shit for a living.

The part of me that wants happy endings wishes Eastwood hadn’t chosen this film to wrap his third act. No one wants stars to go out like Elvis, or Howard Hughes, or even D. W. Griffith. But I’ll take that over another young man being downed for walking while black, or Muslim sisters found dead because they wore headscarves.

Paul Virilio wrote, “film criticism no longer has any meaning. It is reality that we have to analyze in a cinematic way.” A man afraid is a man justified, Eastwood assured us for decades. But box office success is no longer enough to counter real-life myopia. No, art doesn’t need to be moral to be good. But it needs to be more than a mirror, it needs to create nuance, or depth—as Leoni once had. Otherwise it’s just accidental camp, fooling us that we’re strong, alone, and always right.

Note: this was originally published in April 2015 on Partisan, but I since retracted it.

Authors for Indies, May 2nd, 2015

BOOKS

Have you heard about Authors for Indies? It’s a new, national (actually, international) initiative to bring attention to the amazing work that independent bookstores do in terms of supporting regional authors, hand-selling books, hosting events, and building communities—for starters.

I don’t talk about it much (yet) but I used to co-own an independent bookstore, so this is a cause not only close to my heart, but a longstanding part of me. Authors for Indies takes place Saturday, May 2nd, 2015. On that day, authors will be in stores doing everything from reading and signing work to very likely recommending books for Mother’s Day. I’ll be at Book City Bloor West Village May 2nd, from 2:30-4pm. What will I be doing? I DON’T KNOW! But it’ll beat having been snowed in, reciting the parts of a Eukaryote to myself.

In advance of the event, the organizers asked me to supply a list of books I would recommend, with the intention that they might order some in. And I thought, hey, why not post my list with some comments?

But you know, also get out on May 2nd and visit your local independent bookstore!

^^^^^^

Saeed Jones: Prelude to Bruise

Saeed Jones calls himself “the ferocity” online, for every reason you can imagine. He is a force of nature—not only in this, his multiple award-nominated first book of poetry, but also in his work for Buzzfeed LGBT, his creation of their groundbreaking paid writing fellowships and forthcoming literature section, and a number of recent essays that slay. He’s unstoppable, and can break fools with glance. Jones grew up in the American south (mostly Texas), and his writing captures the spectrum of southern atmospheres—parchedness giving way to lushness, community ebbing into threat, and back again. The nameless “Boy” of the book (that ancient, loaded condescension) could be anyone, but reading this book your heart will race as if you are the first person:

 

In a four-legged night,

clouds sink into the trees,

refuse me morning

and mourning, but I pass

what I thought was the end

of myself. To answer

your rifle’s last question:

if you ever find me,

I won’t be there.

 

— from ‘After The First Shot”

 

CA Conrad: The Book of Frank

CA Conrad is one of our most fearless and original poets, and I’d recommend anything he has written. When I got The Book of Frank, I read it three times in a row in one sitting. “Frank,” is a character without a plot, a boy whose learned sense of self-worth is reminiscent of that Sexton line: “I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender into this world.” BUT. Aimless Frank has a surrealistic vision and the distance of a wizard, both of which help him transcend his chaotic environment.

 

Ken Babstock: Methodist Hatchet

Methodist Hatchet is a masterpiece. Each poem is its own world, each line its own breath. In this book, there’s urgency, there’s resignation, there’s scoffing, there’s pleas—but never prayers. Lines will inhabit your mind like destabilizing mantras, like koans: “No one occupies me like me. And no one/makes me lonelier.”

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What is the Colour of Love, Love?

So I thought I’d write to the ether about one of my favourite things in the world—not only discovering new art, which I like aplenty, but making links between artists across time. When artists reference each other and wait for you to notice, and have the patience of saints and will literally wait decades for you to catch up. Cases in point:

 

What Colour is Love?

Disco Pigs vs. Terry Callier

“Disco Pigs” is an Irish play by Enda Walsh made in to a fairly decent film, which is actually up in full (albeit in pieces) on YouTube. It is a story about two decidedly lower working class kids born at almost the same moment, who live next door to one another, and who go on to call themselves “Pig” and “Runt.” They share a distinct and secreted experience and, like twins, have developed their own vocabulary. As they grow and change, their connection becomes more complicated. The girl, “Runt,” is deemed to have more potential and is sent away to focus on a more rigourous education. That doesn’t mean, however, they can live without each other.

There are some absurdist elements, but they’re metaphorical—such as the two holding hands every night through matching hollowed out holes in their bedroom walls. On one of these occasions,

Runt asks: What is the colour of love, Pig?

He says: What sort of love, love?

Runt: Dunno. But you know the way, things, they got a colour? I wonder what the colour of love is…

Pig: Jesus, Runt, you could read a t’ousand thick books and never know the answer to that quiz.

Runt: It would be a good one to know though, hey?

Pig: It’d be brilliant, Runt. It’s here, somewhere…

 

I’ve loved that film for years now, but never knew this song, “What Colour is Love,” by Terry Callier. What a song! It turns out, I’m learning, that Terry Callier abandoned his music career for the most part at one point, went back to school for a degree in sociology, and took a job at the University of Chicago. Cool! He died in 2012, but just a few years prior, Verve re-released his records, and just bless them for it. His melodies are haunting and his tremulous voice sounds, as times, uncannily like Nina Simone. He inhabited the world I might be least comfortable with—folk—with it’s pre-emo navel gazing and cult-Daddy business, all sunburned and burned out (i.e., “The Source Family“). But some things are worth saving. This is one of them:

So  many simple but resonant lines:

If love doesn’t last
Does it live in the past?
And a heart cannot live
If a heart isn’t giving

When it’s over, does it show
Does it leave an afterglow

I’ve thought a lot about that very thing. That somehow after something bad happens, there’s some kind of biomarker on you, that you’ve been flagged. Or that there isn’t any proof when you wish there would be, so someone, anyone, would reach out, someone who might have gone through the same thing.

But anyway. Do you think there’s a relationship here? Because I do!

 

For Coloured Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf by Ntozake Shange (book)  vs. I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue by The Dells (song)

 

I chose the book “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf” as part of a bookclub because, when I had a bookstore, people would always come in and ask for this ALL the time, and I’d been meaning to read it for years. It is a play but called a “choreopoem”—an invention by the author meaning a combination of dance and poetry. Produced for the first time in 1975, it has the hallmark of all good art: it is both of its time (ie., dated), and timeless (ie., transcendent). It is still being performed worldwide, and was made into a star-studded, sub-par feature film I’m going to implore you not to watch.

The choreopoem tells the story of seven distinct but nameless women: Lady in Red, Lady in Blue, Lady in Purple, Lady in Yellow, Lady in Brown, Lady in Green, and Lady in Orange. In turns, they recount their experiences growing up impoverished, marginalized, and at-risk. They are abused and neglected. But they are strong. Ultimately, it is about valuing self and sisterhood—two things I’m still trying to understand.

 

 

In the text, the choreopoem is anchored by the tonal landscape of an almost constant soundtrack. For my bookclub, I made a playlist of the specific songs mentioned in the book. The music feels perhaps even more dated than than the themes of the play. “Dancing in the Street” was mentioned early on, for example. That song is so co-opted, I can’t see it having ever been anything other than a jingle about, oh, people laughing their asses off about their white white teeth while fire hyrants break open and douse them in another tier of freshness you don’t have until you buy that particular brand of toothpaste. Or that heartless David Bowie & Mick Jagger cover of the song, mullets and all, filmed in <3 (no, not a heart) hours in a scheduled tear-down, likely for free.

But the band The Dells were promising, with their song, “Stay in My Corner.” This was riveting  for a few reasons. The first have to do with song structure The accelerating chord progression after the verse’s opening line is unexpected, as is the call and answer. The song is 7 minutes long!! In 1972, that was revolutionary! It builds like a live performance, and not one moment feels overly drawn. This song is often called an original “slow jam,”but it seems to have an undertow.

Like many of The Dells songs that have a veneer of wholesomeness—5 dudes in matching suits, harmonizing, barbershop style—I find the boxing metaphor kind of menacing. Or at the least chauvanistic. Or at least tragic. You get the sense the fix is in on this guy, and that he might be bringing the woman down with him. The whole song is basically about coercing someone into continuing to hang on, because he “needs” her, as he says 5k times. Most—but not all—of the men in the choreopoem are just as capricious, needy, petulant, stubborn.  And something could be said about the interstellar gap between boxing and dancing.

 

 

That leads me to The Dells’ dual-titled song “I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue,” which is not in the play but seems as much an influence. The song opens with the possibly inspid lines (and continues along these lines):

“Red and Yellow and Pink and Green Purple and
Orange and Blue
I can sing a rainbow
(I can sing a rainbow)
I can sing a rainbow, too”

 

While this song is not mentioned in the play, it seems linked in a slant way, in terms of the hybrid name each has and the prismatically splitting nature of our experiences. It’s as if Shange is saying I can be as expansive as any man. Apollo Heights say the colour of love is blue. Like a healing bruise. I refuse to believe it.

 

Review of “Emberton” by Peter Norman in National Post

emberton

Peter Norman’s debut novel, Emberton, is named after a crumbling building that houses the offices of the titular dictionary company.

Although Lance Blunt is illiterate, he’s offered a job as a lexicographer. Not long after starting work, Lance is befriended by the company’s eccentric owner, Mr. Emberton, who lives upstairs in the penthouse.

You can read the rest here: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/03/28/emberton-by-peter-norman-review/

Review in Quill and Quire: ‘Bite Down Little Whisper’ by Don Domanski

Bite-Down-Little-Whisper-191x280– Starred review – 

Bite Down Little Whisper is a lush and resonant collection about the spirit and science of the natural world. It encompasses Taoism, Greek mythology, Egyptology, and the Celts, all seasoned with a sensibility steeped in the rugged Canadian East Coast, where author Don Domanski has long resided. Domanski has established himself as one of Canada’s most original and consistent poets, and Bite Down Little Whisper further enhances that status. The book has been shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award in English-language poetry.

Numerous critics have remarked on Domanski’s talent for lucid metaphors. He draws connections that continually surprise, yet make immediate sense. In “A Bright Fable in a Dark Wood,” he writes vividly of “sunlight falling on its sword in a hayfield.” Elsewhere he has us conjure a “coyote the colour of Pythia’s vapour” (for those who may need a refresher on the more obscure references, there are notes included at the back). Equally essential to Domanski’s work, though much less discussed, is its dynamism. From the title on down, so many of the lines are about movement, birth, growth, decay, or destruction.

Domanski’s writing is so energetic and spirographic it cannot be cast simply as an extension of sentimental nature poetry. On the contrary, this book shrugs with a monkish detachment, defers to science over a possibly mythical Creator, and locates tension in unbalanced forms. The presentation s undeniably contemporary: irregular lines, chock-a-block with enjambment, and minimal use of capitalization or punctuation.

Bite Down Little Whisper is haunting and re-readable. The cover, to which Domanski contributed, is a useful indicator of what lies ahead: if you are capable of deep appreciation of everything from sleeping stags to Venn diagrams, Domanski’s verse offers great riches.

Reviewed for Quill & Quire, December 2013