canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

poems by Sina Queyras
ECW Press, 2001

Short Haul Engine
by Karen Solie
Brick Books, 2001

Household Hints for the End of Time
by Ken Howe
Brick Books, 2001

Reviewed by rob mclennan

An impressive first collection, Sina Queyras' SLIP is made up of comfortable and uncomfortable urban poems, emotional and practical poems, referencing specific parts of Montreal, Vermont, Toronto and Banff. At first reading, what stands out most in these pieces is how tight they are, without being overwrought or overwritten, rife with sharp lines.

I can't sleep because I've not forgotten. Taut. Resentment
cements my lovers back, anger tenses my neck. Over

and over your words knot my shoulders, even as my fingers
attempt to unravel. Touch my chest and I'll explode.

p 65, Giving Shape To Grief

The title of the piece above gives an apt description of the book as a whole, slipipng into, and giving shape to her grief, in poems that could be called love poems, or poems falling out of love. With all the emotional qualities, they provide a fine balance between text and grief, refusing to overwhelm the poems themselves.

This is no way to transcend desire.

p 18, Insomnia 2

Another first book, Karen Solie's Short Haul Engine, recently shortlisted for the second Griffin Poetry Prize, is a long time coming, after poems appearing in, among others, the 1995 anthology Breathing Fire (Harbour), and Hammer & Tongs (Smoking Lung, 1999). The strongest of the three books, each phrase is thick with meaning and strength, and muscular, ponderous layers.

Some of us are eating small sandwiches.
Some of us have taken pills and are swallowing
glass after glass of gin.

We were never intended to view the curve of the earth

so they give us televisions, a film
about a man and his daughter who teach a flock
of Canada geese to fly.

p 53, In-Flight Movie

Solie's poems exist on the back roads, behind Moose Jaw, and radiate darkness and light, as in the poem "In Praise of Grief" (p 26), or "Three for a Friend in Lieu of Some Help" (p 27-9), that writes, "How often will you say grief / before the sinking of that stone / is complete, its gravity, / at last, rest?" (p 27). Solie's poems mine adolescent awareness and experience, things that stay with you and do not leave; of rural things that city folk just might not know about. Hers is a familiar movie seen late at night, less a memory.

When the body of an animal
is occupied by a hunter lost
in a killing cold,
steam rises as souls do
from that small red room.

p 56, Tenant

Finally, in his first collection of poems, Household Hints for the End of Time, Regina poet Ken Howe writes sketches of the truth, lies and other awarenesses, plying with the things we already know, but slightly skewered. Howe's writing is beautiful and succinct, wordy and thick with resonance, going back and forth from a thinly-veiled sadness to a rather odd sense of humour. "No new model of squirrel has been introduced in North / America since the old 'stop-action' squirrel pioneered by / Hollywood B-movies in the fifties." (p 12, "Notes on the Urban Squirrel"). Broken into six sections, Howe writes of Bruckner's symphonies, valentines, going to movies, and the Canadian Rockies, in themes that seem closer than physical, and more personal than domestic, as his section titles allude - "The Ambient Geography", "In the Closed Ecology of the Home", "A Maid in Hell", "Absent Friends", "Prepatory Exercises for Valentine's Day" and "Fluff is the Enemy of Music".

Howe's writing is deceptive, playing with the familiar and twisting it, with the slight undercurrant of something more:

4. Two identical snowflakes, unusual in my experience,
or rather, one snowflake, flutters by, but identical
to one I remember seeing in Edmonton in 1966,
in Emily Murphy Park on a March afternoon
(when I was more likely to notice that sort of thing)
as I stepped into the same river twice, once.

p 11, Snow Epiphanies

These are smart poems, packed with useful knowledge and information, wise hints to use around any home.

rob mclennan is ... poet/editor/publisher ... ed. STANZAS mag & side/lines: A Poetics (Insomniac Press), above/ground press ...coord., Small Press Action Network - Ottawa (SPAN-O) ...snail c/o rr#1 maxville ontario canada k0c 1t0 * 6th coll'n - harvest: a book of signifiers







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.