[REVIEW] Down, by Sarah Dowling


Coach House Books

86 pages, $17.95


By Klara du Plessis


Attempting to tidy the bedroom, down escapes from the pillow. Imagine this feather floating gracefully, not quite ascending, but taking its time to land. Sarah Dowling’s third collection of poems, Down, appears deceptively light at a first glance, then a sequence of “Bury It” poems emerge and proliferate. Constructing a dichotomy between light, light-hearted and popular, and dark, introspective and difficult, everything goes “well / well” in these pages, “but the only problem is / the burial m-hm.”

Dowling appropriates diverse sources from both popular culture and academic circles – lyrics from Aaliyah and The Temptations, a Frank O’Hara poem, articles and interviews on fine arts and rhetoric. She then manipulates this material, chopping, rearranging, repeating and rendering it unrecognizable, so that the resulting verse is neither a series of found poems nor erasures. As a poetic black box, Dowling inputs text that is readily available to the public and transforms it into a highly private vocabulary with which to express herself. Take the poem “Starlight tours,” for example:

, though a and him He who     The ‘midnight on

cold         in had was bitterly         , ride’ bitterly

winter was   fresh taken cold lonely cold

bloodied field

out night night nights (48)

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[REVIEW] Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis



Coach House Books

171 pages, $17.95


Review by Lynne Weiss


Fifteen Dogs, the latest novel by Canadian writer Andre Alexis, compellingly explores the human condition—the need for purpose, spiritual sustenance, food, sex, sensual gratification, and most of all, for love and language—through the perspective of fifteen dogs who have been given human consciousness in the course of a bet between Hermes and Apollo.

All fifteen dogs happen to be in a veterinary clinic next to the Toronto tavern where Hermes and Apollo formulate their wager. “I’ll wager a year’s servitude,” says Apollo, “that animals—any animals you choose—would be even more unhappy than humans are if they had human intelligence.”

Apollo’s brother Hermes (they are both sons of Zeus), accepts the bet on the condition that if even one of the creatures to whom they grant human consciousness dies happy, he wins the bet. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Broom Broom, by Brecken Hancock & The Spell of Coming (or Going) by Mary Lou Buschi


Coach House Press

72 pages, $17.95


Patasola Press

48 pages,  $10.80


Review by Adam Sol


Grief is one of our first reasons for inventing poetry: the urge to inscribe a loss that cannot be recovered. Gilgamesh’s Enkidu, Homer’s Achilles, Jeremiah’s Jerusalem, Shelley’s Keats, Ginsberg’s mother, Olds’ father, Mary Jo Bang’s son – all have been memorably recorded and mourned in verse.

But your loss is not necessarily my loss.  The hard part about writing from grief is that most of a poet’s readers will not know or care about the poet’s mother or brother or son or city the way the poet does.  And so, if the poet is to draw successfully on our emotions, something of that loss must be transferred, rather than merely reported, to us.

Two recent debut collections of poetry attempt to convey, through emotional perception or linguistic flair, a sense of the mind struggling to cope with devastating loss. The Spell of Coming (or Going) revolves around the tragic death of the poet’s brother.  Although the specifics are not described in any detail, Buschi at her best can evoke the complex emotional landscapes that make families unique and fascinating as they confront suffering.  In “Clocks,” a grieving father spends his time “bent over his box of stopped watches.”  “When the Wreck Has Been” describes the strange, sad horror of dispersing the ashes of a loved one:  “It’s your body I toss from my hand, / wipe on my trousers, you who I chased // down streets as a child, always just beyond my reach.”  These moments evoke the tragedy that haunts and compels The Spell of Coming (or Going)Continue reading

Match, by Helen Guri (A Review by Adam Sol)

Toronto: Coach House Books

88 pgs./$15.95 US


Here’s what I know about Helen Guri. She lives in Toronto. She’s shorter than I am. And much thinner. I think she’s dating a guy named Tom. She may have a cat. She wrote something funny online about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Anne Carson (see here: http://www.randomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/sophoclean-rob-ford). And her first book of poems, Match, is about a lonely 40-something year-old man named Robert Brand who purchases, and then has a sort of relationship with, a mail-order sex doll.

The lyric poem can do a lot of things, and inhabit characters is one of them. Full disclosure: I’ve been known to do it myself. And while there are some characters (Prufrock, Henry from the Dreamsongs, Olson’s Maximus) who are clearly intended to be read as stand-ins or distorted masques for their creators, for others the relationship is less clear. So while relishing the oddness of the premise of Match, as well as Guri’s wonderful musical ear, I thought a lot about the central character: not just “Who is Robert?” but “How does the poet Helen Guri want me to approach him?”  The jacket copy blurb about the book directed me towards one central concern: “Can anything good happen when the object of one’s affection is, well, an object?”  There are other themes in the book about how the line between objectification and love is not as clear as we’d like to believe, and about how technology- electronic, synthetic, plastic- intrudes upon, replicates, or even replaces ‘true’ relationships. As Guri writes in ‘Hovercraft, Out Warm, Love Doll,’ “Where there is no inside the outside means everything.” Continue reading