canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Scouts Are Cancelled: The Annapolis Valley Poems
by John Stiles
Insomniac Press, 2003

Reviewed by Darren Greer

Strawberry suppers.

A girl with her hair caught in the gears of a Ferris Wheel.

A wheelbarrow full of gourds.

A white hen running through a field of corn.

These are some of the images from John Stiles debut book of poetry, SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED: The Annapolis Valley Poems (Insomniac Press, 2002.). SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED is a linked series of narrative poems written in the first-person by characters living in small town, rural Nova Scotia. Each poem is rich in Maritime idiom and imagery, and heavily seasoned with obscure local phrases such as "dumb as a sackful of a hammers," "give 'er, Jimmy" and "sumpin' fierce." Stiles use of rural maritime dialect rings true, and his images are clear and crisp, as he tells the story of a greedy land developer turning a local farm into a subdivision.

The collection's strength lies not in the story, however, but the depictions of rural Maritime life, relayed in the often amusing, and sometimes profound voices of the local residents. The two voices most often employed in the book are Selby and Lio, teen-age boys whose no-holds-barred gossip and ruminations give an entertaining account of the private doings and going-ons of their neighbours. At its best, the collection is reminiscent of Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology, and in the tradition of such writers as Masters and Faulkner, Stiles manages to imbue his collection with a sense of the universal under the alternating banal/bizarre descriptions of small town life.

SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED also contains one short story, "Me an' Lio", which is again narrated by Selby, though the use of vernacular doesn't come off as well here, and you get lost in the rambling, narrative prose style. It is the poems themselves, chock-full of idiom and incident and a straight-forward, everyman's lyricism, that linger and resonate.

Darren Greer is a Nova Scotia-born writer living in Toronto. His newest novel, Still Life with June, has just been released by Cormorant Books.







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