canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

minotaurs & other alphabets
by Nichole Markotic
Wolsak & Wynn, 1998

Flat Side
by Monty Reid
Writing West, Red Deer College Press, 1998

Four Red Crescent Moons
by Julie McNeill
Wolsak & Wynn, 1998

reviewed by rob mclennan

For her second poetry collection, minotaurs & other alphabets, Calgary writer Nicole Markotic moves away from writing directly and peripherally on fmily to turn on more abstract points, of mythological beasts, female sexuality and writing itself - the telling of the story, or the non-story. Very much a whole comprised of sectionalized parts, much of what I enjoyed about this book was in the way she employs triggers, taking a line of someone else's, whether Aretha van Herk, Mary Shelley or Bronwen Wallace, and leaps off into her own directions.

As she explains later on, "a modern poet lives inside the name of someone else" (p 76, "no Troy"), not keeping her influence hidden or denied. "it isn't every day you get to visit the one day that didn't happen" (p 38), she begins, in the piece "Invention does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos", the title taken from a line of Mary Shelley, from her introduction to Frankenstein. Markotic has always had a miraculous and staggered turn of the phrase, getting down to both the bare bones and multi-layered doubletalk, twirling familiarity and unfamiliarity to the point that even the most obscure piecces still eave an opening.

At the beginning of the collection, she writes, "becomes an accident of ice crystals and orgasm. the / unwinding of a single spool of thread." (p 11, "I love you more than myeyes"), or further on, saying that "mythology contradicts what our eyes reveal." (p 76, "no Troy"). A strong collection by a superb writer, the only part that didn't grab me were the female sexuality pieces.

I've never been a fan of genatalia poems, whether male or female, which may be more of a personal bias than anything else, but they seemed to be the weakest pieces of the book, giving little away. "what your hand doesn't remember my vulva does. slowed down and singular. / gulp, not part of a pattern, but there inside." (p 45, "Using the future as an angle."). "There is no way to distinguish what one has chosen to remember / from what one has chosen to forget." (p 7, "Burning the Back Issues").

I must say that I haven't cared for some of what Monty Reid has done (his Dog Sleeps, for example), but I've loved most of his collections, specifically the lyrical rhythms of These Lawns, my favorite of the Writing West series from Red Deer College Press. It's good to see this series out in the world again, as some fine, fine books have gone through it, including those by Dennis Cooley and Barry McKinnon. It's especially interesting to see the series edited by Nicole Markotic.

And now, Alberta badlands poet (since moved to the Quebec badlands - Aylmer, just over the side from Ottawa) has returned to Red Deer with Flat Side, a collection of longer and longer lined poems wrapped around the physicality of the world. Reid's poems are wonderfully vivid and fresh. I enjoyed the first poem most of all, "Burning the Back Issues" (p 7-8), on getting rid of American Poetry Review, mulling over what should be saved, and what no longer needs to - "It is not the first time / I have tried to give up some words." (p 7).

Reid can write a personal poem or story heard without being overbearing or sentimental, such as in the longer piece, "Previous Owners" (p 15-18) on the narrator's current house - "Those unfinished / walls in the basement, where they had pencilled in / the small additions of their love, / had been papered over." (p 15). He writes the way things work, but oh so beautifully, and filled with good humour, as even further on in the same poem, as the house was then bought by "the Anglican Church for use as a mance / and the church covered it with a miraculous lime green / paint that made the neighbors reexamine their faith." (p 16).

An early member of the Bohemian Embassy Poets' Workshop in Toronto, Julie McNeill's poems read like soft gestures made with slow, smooth and confident hands through the air, poems of domestic love and surreal realities, history and children, marriage and sex, flea markets and the urban sprawl. "Every morning / it's the same two cups / leaving small wet circles on the tablecloth. / A routine so timely / they might be gears in a large machine." (p 41, untitled).

McNeill's poems are pieces you have to let yourself be absorbed by, paused over, like a water drop disappearing into a sheet of paper. "No one can push / my frantic heart into my throat / faster, / if that's love. // Oh, others have. / Briefly." (p 34, untitled). One can only hope that after this collection has worked its way through the readers skin and bones, there won't be such a wait for possible seconds.

This is the information at the bottom of rob mclennan's email messages: "poet/editor/publisher... ed. STANZAS mag & Shadowy Technicians: New Ottawa Poets (Broken Jaw)... pub., above/ground press...coord., ottawa small press fair & Small Press Action Network - Ottawa ...snail c/o rob mclennan, rr#1 maxville on k0c 1t0 * 4th coll'n, The Richard Brautigan Ahhhhhhhhhhh (Talon)." 







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.