canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


Scrub Cedar
by Nelson Ball
above/ground press, 2003

Celtic Highway
by Trevor Carolan
Ekstasis Editions, 2002

Reviewed by Randy Nicholas 

Scrub Cedar is a collection of eleven brief poems focused myopically on the theme of man versus nature. The collection fails to impress, but the reader, should he or she wish to read the collection, can take comfort in that it only takes three minutes to read from cover to cover.

The collection opens with the poem "Kaladar" Ė a poem that could use some work. The imagery is shifty and confused by the use of awkward line breaks that seem to be the poetís attempt to make the poem artsy. This use of form fails to achieve any effect other than that of pretentiousness. Throughout the poems, the reader is reminded constantly that there is a poet behind the words. This alienates the reader from the work.

1

Short
grass
in thin topsoil
over
rock

2

Low
bowl-shaped juniper
scattered
on high sloping rock

The line breaks also interrupt the rhythm of the poem-- ripping the reader out of the flow and blurring the message that the poem is trying to convey.

Ball not only fails to execute the technical elements of poetry, but his treatment of his main theme is rudimentary. For example, in "Kaladar" the comparison of "bowl-shaped juniper" the poet alludes to the idea of man destroying nature. Juniper is a shrub from which berries are used to make gin; the image enforces the theme of man mutilating nature for his own purposes without a care for the environment. The poet draws a clever comparison and the straightforward phrasing is concise, but the line breaks interrupt the poemís flow.

Unfortunately for the reader, all Ball manages to do is tirelessly regurgitate the theme of "nature good, man bad". The filler poems arenít much better. In these poems Ball uses one sentence with line breaks after every one or two words to state rather obvious facts. As in "April Morning":

Earthworms
on the paved road
will die
in sunlight
before
noon

The poetís simplistic message is humans are part of nature, and as such should respect nature, rather than destroy it.

Although this point of view is legitimate, the poet fails to execute it because he is unable to get out of the way of his poems. The reader is left with a stronger impression of the poet than of the poetry.


In Celtic Highway by Trevor Carolan the reader is invited on a journey of the poetís self discovery as he traces his heritage while traveling from China to Alberta. Each poem is rich with the poetís personal history and experience.

Throughout the journey the poet explores the relationship between nature and human culture, and how both contribute to the evolution of humanity.

The poet begins his journey with the Judeo-Christian creation myth. The first poem, "It Wasnít Eve", speaks of original sin. The poet muses that original sin was not Adam and Eve eating the apple, or their disobedience of Godís law, but it was love, or rather confused lust.

It wasnít Eve who sinned and fell
but Adam saw her first of course
from the corner of his eye.
Eve, cinnamon
Ripe as pomegranate,
Dusky-voiced,
From the confluence of the Tigris and
Euphrates.

Throughout the collection, the reader witnesses the poet learning and growing through his travels. The poems set the stage for the poet who compares himself to Adam.

Carolan uses experience gained through his impression to flesh out his own history and relation in the world. At first, he compares himself to Adam and assumes, like Adam, he has no history. The poet is caught up in the immediacy of his world and lives strictly in the present.

In each of the six parts of the collection, the poet reaches different stages of personal evolution. He evolves as he digs deeper into the past, into himself, and into his beliefs. His transformation from identifying solely with Adam is arduous. The poet betrays his uncertainty during his personal transformation. For example, in "Practice", Carolan writes, "Truly, true can be false; / truly, false can be true. / And things are not always / what they seem to be."

Carolan demonstrates technical skill in the poetic craft through his careful word choice throughout the entire collection. Each poem contains its own version of the world, painting pictures wonderful and uncertain, colourful and unique. The Poet uses language so subtlety the reader does not notice the changes occurring to the poet until the end

In the last poem, "Forty-Ninth Day" the reader sees a complete transformation. Heís no longer like Adam, the only man in the world, but rather, the poet is now part of something bigger. "The essence of self returning to all component / non-self elements." (emphasis in original).

Celtic Highway tells an original story in such a way as to be comforting. It is the kind of poetry that one reads and feels as though they are sitting by a fireplace, letting the warm glow bathe them in comfort. It makes the reader feel at home.

Randy Nicholas lives in a small town whose name is not important enough to mention. More of his writing can be found at http://www.wehearvoices.com 

 

 

 

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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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