canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Stephen Brockwell
ECW, 2001

Reviewed by Nathaniel G. Moore

Recent ECW titles such as The Invisible World Is In Decline by Bruce Whiteman are intellect run-wild poetry books ready to gnaw away at the borders of modern poetry from presentation to style. And this sweet thing, Cometology by Stephen Brockwell complements the pressís past offerings without fail. This prosaic, eclectic poetic tool is a whirlwind of style, energy and form. Each of the five sections offers a different point of attack on the jugular of poetry. Brockwell has a depth to his style, and ability to write pithy poems, then release an antidote to the reader who wants more words. 

I imagined a high school student attempting this hybrid style of writing in a composition class complete with Brockwellís geometric influence and watching the student torn apart by a soggy insistence on line breaks and a succinct narrative. Well screw them.

"An Arthritic Shoulder" demonstrates Brockwellís brilliance as a prose writer, the narrative taking a heavy swerve to involve the reader -

Suffer, she says. If you recognize her face as she lights a cigarette on rue Drolet,
do not fear to demand her attention; cross the street and ask her for a kiss.
You may have the fortune to be
Slapped by her irreverent hand.

The more books that get published in this vein the better. Not that there are a lot of Brockwells out there. However, Stan Rogalís "Geometry of the Odd" and "Lines of Embarkation" did come to mind. Like Rogal, Brockwell is ambitious to play cupid and lobbying for the marriage and beyond, trying to set up science and literature on this doomed courtship ready for their honeymoon. However, before they tie the knot forever, the poetry without the scientific slant does stand on its own, for example the simplistic passage in "Fog On The Moor" -

On a green hill we stand naked in fog
in a ring of cedars and silver birch.
Her hair shines with the dampness of fog,
The skin of her breasts smooth with dew
Near the outline of her ribs.
Her labia are extended, could engulf me,
She moves the sole of one foot
over the top of the grass.
I fail to watch without reverence.

Brockwellís craft is engineered in a poetry dungeon, one of dedication and where technically sound water sealed poems come to life; the thicker the traffic of words the better. As much the book of a humourist as a poetic mad scientist, Cometology is a joy. The section accompanied by illustration "Geometric Odes" is a random run-in with information. Here the reader meets subject narratives which are compelling on their own, especially if youíre in the habit of just wandering in a library scanning bookspines.

The sophistication of the manuscript peaks with poems like "Tetrahedron" replete with a crash-course in geometric foreplay and equation -

"First solid, deviant pyramid:
no platform for a tomb
No capsule for the luminous eye."

The great collection ends with the section "The Whole: Nine Yarns". With Brautigan-esque clip-poems, shielding full meaning but showing the privacy of words -


Lake-steam carries glacial thaw.
Thaw of forest-covering ice,
Faeces of extinct northern birds,
Urine of otter and jay,
Evaporated pleasure boat oil,
Slick of the tankerís spill.

Nathaniel G. Moore writes for Broken Pencil and runs the articles section at

Stephen Brockwell's poem Parthenon Stallion's Head appears in The Danforth Review.







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