Malahat Review, September 2009

Three good things from the issue:

I am not that familiar with Ross Leckie’s poems, but I really loved the ones here grouped as “Wetlands of Pure Reason.” Very nice. These poems, with titles like “The Brain of a Cauliflower,” “Addition and Subtraction and All the Gorgeous Functions” have real energy, directness. They are conversational but ponderous as much as assertive. They make space–literally forcing the reader to turn the journal on its side–and they zoom about the mind, not taxing, but taunting, tempting a little. I like a direct question. I don’t need, more emphatically, I don’t want everything answered in a poem. Ground me. Direct me. Delight me. I can read. Give me images: “The sunlight like flashcards,” and language “coruscations of the liliaceous plants,” and yes, those questions “Why are they so afraid of that Arabic zero when they know it so well by heart?” (69). I do understand the “implications of a breeze,” and yes, “the cortex remembers.” It does. I just found these poems inhabitable, and engaging. Taking me out of the small. 

Susan Gillis’ “Spring Storm” surprised me. It starts out with burned toast, moves into a series of serrated snippets of nature “the eddy…frilled like a doily…seethed” a “twig…helpless to go anywhere” the river “lifted by windhooks” and then the speaker, having been herself turned and tossed in these jets and columns of air, realizes that “the gaps among things” have closed. She may be on the other side of things: “blips, leaf-loss.” She concludes “When I leave, understand, I will not be gone.” Lyric or not, this, to me, is more indicative of the kind of complicated relationship contemporary poetry has (and has to have) to nature (but I’ll post more on that in a few days).

Sandra Pettman’s “Derrida’s Butter Dish” simply pleased me. I don’t know the poet, never heard of her before, but thought the poem had terrific energy, and I have a weakness for a good prose poem. They are not, contrary to popular belief, easy to do. The poem isn’t particularly flashy in terms of imagery, or language, it is more narratively driven than imagistic or lyrically driven, it isn’t overly surreal as many prose poems are, but it does make use of those conventions. At the center of the poem is the butter dish, its opaque utilitarianism symbolizing the difficulty and necessity of the French thinker. Part critique, part desire to make shortbread of him, and sit down to tea. Lovely. Surprising.

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