canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

if I could be a bird i'd be a cat
by Jason Gallagher
Self-published, 2000

The Scorpion Wife
by Jennifer LoveGrove (illustrations by Barbara Baskier)
Wayward Armadillo Press, 1999

Nitty Gritty: The Film Noir Poems
by Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg
Thirteenth Tiger Press, 1999

by Hopi Martin
Junction Books, 2000

Reviewed by Michael Bryson


These four chapbooks may not represent the best contemporary Canadian poetry, but they do represent the determination of poets to be heard - despite the general public's blanket indifference. They also represent the subtle variety of voices of the next generation of Canadian poets.

In this forth chapbook, if I could be a bird i'd be a cat, Jason Gallagher repeats his common themes and delivers them with trademark wit and honesty. Writing in the Bukowski tradition, Gallagher's poems often seem like simple reporting, like a simple collection of observed facts, but they are generously more. Journalism requires a "news angle"; poems something different. Gallagher knows this instinctively, and his poems provide it - this extra element, the tonal shifts that lift observations into art.

if I could be a bird i'd be a cat also sees Gallagher move bravely into deeper thematic territory. Specifically, there are poems here about a not-so-pleasant childhood and the narrator's re-evaluation of that childhood through confronting memory and maturity. This movement is encouraging for the future direction of Gallagher's art. He has a fine base of gritty realism, and he is learning to use that base as the foundation for his imagination's expansion.

Jennifer LoveGrove's The Scorpion Wife is a chapbook of a single poem, which contains one verse per page and one illustration per verse. In the most basic terms, "The Scorpion Wife" is narrative poem about a narrator who takes a bath, gets surrounded by scorpions, then turns into a scorpion. Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is an obvious precursor. The poem itself initially eluded me, and I remain uncertain that I "get it." However, let's just say the poem borrows some of Kafka's paranoia which it mixes with more than a dash of surrealism. The book is finely made - a true artistic production.

In Nitty Gritty: The Film Noir Poems, Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg constructs a sequence of poems around some of Hollywood's silver screen classics, Double Indemnity, Rear Window, The Maltese Falcon and To Have and Have Not. The results are both a tribute to a bygone era and a satirical look at the sharp lines that era drew around gender relations. Most of these poems, which glitter with humour, have sex as their foundation, but it is a breezy sex, coated with the decorum of lingering stares and sly innuendo. The final poem answers the question "Why is it always night (and almost always raining)?": "Because otherwise you would think/ that everything was not evil under the moon." The tone here, as throughout this chapbook is pitch perfect and delicious. Yum.

Finally, Harvest by Hopi Martin is a nuanced collection of poems by a recent University of Toronto graduate. As the title suggests, these are poems with a special interest in landscape and loss. The poems are mostly free verse (there are some haiku), and the landscape ranges from northern Ontario to the Himalayas. Strong first poems from a poet in motion.

Copies of if I could be a bird i'd be a cat can be ordered by writing Jason Gallagher at 57 Marie Anne W., Montreal, PQ - H2W 1B7.

Copies of The Scorpion Wife can be ordered from Wayward Armadillo Press at #2-95 Tyndall Ave. Toronto, ON - M6K 2G1.

Links to Thirteenth Tiger Press and Junction Books are provided above.







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