Review: ‘Sharps’ in Canadian Literature

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Stevie Howell’s [Sharps] opens with “The Guard”—a poem that appears before the collection’s title page, and that serves simultaneously as a gesture of admittance and an administered pause:

King Tut, 5’6”, lies supine on mould-flecked cotton,
ceiling-transfixed. Body broken
as if struck by lightning. Dead at nineteen,
before purpose, before the remark.
My avatar.

Throughout the collection, Howell’s poems are edged with violence and whetted with measured and attentive lines. The speaker of one reflects on her First Communion, then on experiences with Hare Krishnas and Bahá’ís before concluding:

My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after mass. That’s all I know.

Howell’s poems speak of people who “fumble towards intention,” who compare social rivals to the eerie children in The Shining, who see Rip Torn’s likeness in portraits of the Queen, and who debate the longevity of “the three-winged, / fluorescent snow angel of radiation”—a symbol that may mean zilch to whomever or whatever is alive to come across it in 100,000 years. Some poems are sharp and playful, eschewing the Roman alphabet to copy the wax rubbings of children in museums of natural history—“Dinosaurs have a Jungian resonance / with the <5 set,” after all. Others are worrisome and ominous. Some probe the “the one thing you can do / with a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity / about human biology;” others chronicle inventories of online vitriol and hate. Readers may find that Howell’s work calls Karen Solie’s to mind, or that of Ken Babstock (who provided a back-cover blurb). It is exquisitely visceral, and arrestingly intelligent.

Original review can be found here.