canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Ghost Maps
by Erin Noteboom
Wolsak and Wynn, 2003

by Wendy Morton
Ekstasis Editions, 2003

Reviewed by Janine Armin

Erin Noteboom’s Ghost Maps is a historical poetry collection inspired by conversations between the author and a war veteran in her effort to further understand what she refers to as “the care of the body.” This collection is about physical pain and offers a sentimental and factual approach to its corporeal presence. More distance from expression of these feelings often evokes a stronger emotive response – the qualities of the unknown often encourage a stronger sense of empathy. Erin Noteboom has developed her thesis on the care of the body with correct prose, but where our emotions our supposed to be drawn from remains rather elusive.

Silent Night is tremendously sad in a Hollywood manner. On Christmas Eve the narrator recounts,

Across the shattered field, someone
Is singing
XXXXXXXXStille Nacht.

He takes aim at the sound.

The perfect trees


In "The Ghost" the narrator recalls an instance, in which a paratrooper succumbs to the malleable laws of war,

You're supposed to wait
But no one did

I saw
XXXXHis teeth spin out
Like fireworks

These war torn images have a blockbuster effect but the book only gets good once the protagonist returns home from war. As he is reunited with his wife, the combination of two different mind sets confronting the same issue; how to deal with commonalities like supermarkets after witnessing so much blood, generates an exciting stream of prose.

Several poems proceed in this manner, addressing at once the desire for a man to feel normal in his home, and his parallel inability to do so. It is interesting also that a woman is communicating the struggle of a war hero. In spite of the poems being from his perspective, we inherently receive a feminine point of view, which perhaps gives the poems a more sorrowful edge.

In "Crossing", the narrator asks “How much of the memory is carried in the body?” Through the latter half of the book, Noteboom continues to ask this question and answers it by infusing daily images with morphine and battle field language as we see in Wedding.

Vivian wore satin
The door behind her opened
XXXXXXAnd she shone there
Like a parachute.

Noteboom creates a language of images, which unite the repercussions of war and those of daily minutiae on the body.

Like Noteboom, Wendy Morton in Undercover reveals the novelty in personal perspective. These poems are a collection of very obvious sentiments written in concise and well practiced prose. Her poems are observations and statements made from a very literal standpoint. Her factual representations, with feminine impulse could be conceived as challenges to sarcasm, which in this case makes the collection boring. There is no fear of being duped here as there is no antagonistic relationship set up between reader and poet.

The circular form of the novel stems from its feminine content, as well as its extensive use of literal repetition within and between poems. Perhaps, the reason for this is to emphasize aspects of her poetry. However, this should not necessitate the repetition of an already stated fact, but should rather be insinuated through a clever employment of style.

The blue collar sentimental tissue of poems like "Two Boots" and "Bernie’s Funeral" rescue the collection from complete emotive drivel. It seems as though there has been a lot of time spent paring down words, where ideas should have been given more depth.

In "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" the title is the object of the poem. Perhaps, this could be an intriguing discussion, but the poem that follows does not support the excitement inherent to the engaging question. The garden metaphors are tired and weak “she’s been putting her dreams under the compost pile for years.” Poetry should be neither this literal nor this floral.

There is one character in the book, Big Josh, who I managed to form a sympathetic connection with. He is a working class labourer who Norton treats with the sympathetic fondness of someone who has a university degree for someone who doesn’t,

He’s not big on words,
He’s just big,
Thinking of engines.

This kind of relationship made me dislike the narrator, though I would assume, judging by the welcoming attitude of the book that this could not have been the purpose of this poem, which was probably a kind observation from warped perspective.

Janine Armin is a Toronto freelance writer who has contributed to Bookslut, Clamor Magazine, Nylon and The Village Voice. Her poetry has appeared in Montage (Montreal) and she edits the zine Hey Maurice.






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