canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Trains of Winnipeg
by Clive Holden
DC Books, 2003

In The Terrible Weather of Guns
by John B. Lee
The Mansfield Press, 2003

Almost Forgotten
by Tom Henihan
Frog Hollow Press, 2002

Reviewed by Nathaniel G. Moore

Clive Holden’s debut poetry collection from DC Books has an elastic range in both style and voice. Interactions with the page and structure come in both visual art and visual poetry. Which means, beyond this review you will have to actually read the book to experience these elements. Edited by Winnipeg poet Jon Paul Fiorentino, The Trains of Winnipeg is not resigned to its geographic bent. The title piece is a well drawn out example of Holden’s voice, which is more often than not in first person melodic:

i am a train of Winnipeg
i’ve had no home till you
your dress, the wind, your tangled hair
my rail on tracks is true.

One of my favorite moments in the collection is ‘18,000 dead in Gordon head’, based on a found VHS tape.

i heard a crack that bounced off the houses. It wasn’t like a tv gun shot.
it was like hearing a thin fracture form in the rest of the day.

With its subtle prowl like narrative, it is an engaging poem with a lot to offer.

The poems conditions itself into a layered internalization, where events become objects: in a moment where the VHS tape itself has been thrown out translates into a physical moment in the piece. 

Holden’s narrative is convincing and pure, taking the reader without hitting them over the head with a mallet. This piece is morbid, but sensual, not as creepy in tone, which allows us to clearly view the participation of the ‘i’ and the task.

and I kept thinking—why doesn’t this feel more unusual?

Holden’s book is worthwhile, a crisp volume with lots of static and energy. In summation of three final pieces in this review, I would suggest the following: Nanaimo station an instantly accessible biographical piece; g r a i n t r a i n for its repetitive verve and pit bull sharp flow; and Manitoba Manifesto, a sensitive pieces where the poet takes off a lot of protective layering and offers the reader raw, contemporary empathetic warmth.

In The Terrible Weather of Guns by John B. Lee is a thought-provoking historically charged collection. “I have seen men wounded by bones / the way a canon ball/ bowls the skull clean/ in a sudden blink / and splintering off the brain / so the body falls clear / and shouldered shorter for that decollation of battle” Lee tells the story of the life and times of Irish immigrant, Joseph Willcocks, who fought in 1812. He also went on to become publisher of the first political newspaper in Upper Canada.

There’s a poem about Mr. Willcocks throwing a friend into a lake for untying his boots. Now this is a good idea; that is, the author read an excerpt from Mr. Willcocks diary, found out he threw his young Hale into the lake for doing the act of untying his shoes and then wrote a poem about it from Willcock’s perspective.

If one imagines Lee compiling this collection and researching the book--breathing life into the obscured subject matter of this historic pioneer, one comes away appreciating the craftsmanship of the work.

Due to the limitation of the text, a result of the decision to remain in an authentic 19th century voice, the collection does suffer mildly from stodginess. It is highly imaginative, but at the same time, highly predictive in execution. It is more or less, a poetic biography, and didactic and solid in construction, in a traditional sense, but entirely formulated once the reader understands the pattern at hand.

Almost Forgotten by Tom Henihan, is a small chapbook that is beautifully produced. While naming a book Almost Forgotten may invite cognitive amnesia, the overall production offers validity to the condensed poem, which makes up a large portion of the collection.

An example of this is the poem “Succour”

This moment of absence
and accumulated time
turns its blue light towards the river.
The fog officiates
at the funeral ceremony
of footsteps and shadows.
You have left a wound on the world.
The mouths that you kissed are thirsty
While the moon passes its cup
above their heads.
It is bitter, how you have left
succour to so many as a memory.
The poems in the chapbook are simply put, a traditional approach if not standard declarations in voice, they represent no more than to what they equate in literal meaning. There is not, unfortunately, any great experiment at hand, but rather, moments where the hem is taken out slightly. These poems are tender, vivid and centralized and their tight focus creates an illusion of being flawless, though their narrow aim does make the collection drag on into the abyss of shadows, fogs, and the colours of forgetting. The language insists inanimate objects are sleeping; sometimes the actions of words are forced upon unsuspecting props, making the poems seem banal. As Henihan writes in ‘Waiting’ found towards the end of the collection: “There is no urgency, what is about to happen is fated.”

Nathaniel G. Moore is represented online courtesy of Notho Entertainment <>






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