canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Alison Calder, Chandra Mayor, Sharanpal Ruprai, Kerry Ryan and Melanie Unrau; edited by Catherine Hunter
J. Gordon Shillingford, 2002

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Winnipeg is the city that unites the five poets in this anthology. While the voice of each one differs from the others, each is remarkable for their strength and insight.

Chandra Mayor writes explicitly and powerfully of mental breakdown. Her language cuts to the bone of mental disorder and explores the inner sanctum of its fears. From 'Crisis House'
xxxxxxxxxx The first time was because of my tongue, the way it
settled in my xxxxxxxxxx mouth like a slug, silent and
glistening. I
mutely accepted my xxxxxxxxxx pills at ten o'clock. There was
black hole in the sky where the xxxxxxxxxx moon should have been.
xxxxxxxxxx This is what it's like to wake up in a snowbank, with a
mouth full xxxxxxxxxx of blood, your tongue in someone else's
and on through 'Ascension'
When I was skin stretched taut
around my bones, I swung my thighs
like scythes as I walked through crowded
streets, ... My spin lurched
from my back in bas-relief and I tried to climb
it like a ladder, crawl out through my throat
and drift away.
Mayor sees with clarity the awful visions of the disillusioned and isolated, unable to be part of community, to be in touch with other people. Hers is a remarkable gift.

By contrast, Alison Calder takes a magnifying glass to the ordinary and puts it in a larger context. In 'Wolf Tree' she writes '. The wolf tree embraces us in its branches, / holds the buds of our tender dreams.' She takes us in to see the minutae of the buds and brings into our lives.

In 'Abnormal' she draws the parallel between
Cancer, maybe.
Outlaw cells riding the range
of my frame.

canker worms boil on a tree's bark,
a seething ball turning green leaves
to the gall of its own green swelling.
Calder reveals how the cancer cells proliferate in the same way the canker worms do, eating everything in their path.

Melanie Unrau weaves Old Testament imagery without losing touch with contemporary experience:
in his anger moses
threw the stone tablets to the ground
they crumbled like the twin towers
before our eyes
Or, in the ordinary event of walking on hot ground, she writes
sometimes she removed her shoes slipped
them off silent beautiful
because she said we're standing
on holy ground

She brings cultural heritage to bear with grace and insight, revealing the tension between past and present, and what can be learned therein.

Sharanpal Ruprai takes us into the world of the Canadian-Indian, evoking the sights, sounds and smells. She writes with sensuality and sensitivity of the culture:

I walk out of the sanctuary, steady
the tray with one hand
and the cha with the other,
my foot holding the door open.
A balancing act I practice daily.
All eyes on me, the cha bitter, the basen
harder than my voice.

She reminds us of the separation of being different:
I hang on to Aryan dolls.
They remind me of a little girl's
short black hair, small
sober eyes, and pale brown
skin that could never fit
into the mould.
Kerry Ryan, the last poet in this excellent collection, reveals yet other disparate worlds - that of youth and the young lover.

She has a penetrating eye for the sensitive moment:
hold me in
the soft star
of your hand
and you will see
that I'm light
as the word whisper
or wonder
She explores the early development of a relationship:
we spent the afternoons
of our days tasting
each other's sadness,
testing for flandmines
and hidden kindnesses
There is honesty and brutal clarity in these five poets, a willingness to be open, explore their everyday world and expose it to the reader with incisive language and clear vision. An anthology to be recommended. It is hoped that each of these five poets will be published separately over the next years.

JOANNA M. WESTON M.A., married, 3 sons, two cats. A chocaholic writer. Has had poetry published in anthologies and journals, and a middle-reader THE WILLOW-TREE GIRL online and in print, 2003.






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.