At the centre of this issue is Elisabeth Harvor’s prize-winning novella, selected by judges Robert Finley, Helen Humphreys, and Lorna Jackson. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves! First, Crispin Elsted, cofounder of Barbarian Press, welcomes us with six poems in riddle form, drawing inspiration and subject matter from the Exeter Book. These riddles set the tone for the following poems and the novella, where the playful exposes the profound and, in the novella in particular, the humorous can reveal (or mask) something more sinister.
Erin Mouré, winner of the 1988 Governor General’s Award for her poetry collection Furious, contributes four poems. Mouré writes first in Galician, a sister language of Portuguese, before translating the poems into English.Those of us not familiar with Galician are invited to bounce back and forth between the parallel texts, to tease out meaning from the unknown language by comparing it to the familiar. We discover that can must mean dog, perhaps nube is cloud, cristal is glass, correndo is running—though we could easily be mistaken.
Bookended between two groupings of poetry is Elisabeth Harvor’s winning entry for the 2004 Novella Prize. “Across Some Dark Avenue of Plot He Carried Her Body” is a darkly comic rumination on a time the narrator spent working as a sessional lecturer at the fictitious, and prestigious, Stanopolis College in Montreal. The reader has full access to the narrator’s wonderfully neurotic thoughts and we watch, transfixed, as she describes how she fears her students, despises (and fears) her landlord, fantasizes about her faculty’s director, and drunkenly resists fleeing her dark, frigid, and exhaust-filled apartment during a prolonged power outage in a fierce winter storm. An entertaining read for anyone, perhaps in particular for those who attempt the precarious balancing act of teaching and writing. Or writing and anything else. Or writing, full stop.
Anne Simpson is waiting for us on the other side, to slow us down, to gently remind us to take a deep breath. She invites us into meditative stillness with her free form poems “Willow Pattern”and “Beyond.”In the review section,Simpson’s second book of poems, Loop, is critiqued by Shane Neilson, who feels that, though perhaps more risks could be taken in the collection, it nonetheless “establishes Anne Simpson’s place among the best new poets the Maritimes have to offer.” The latter observation proves true, as Loop later won the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize. Also in this issue: poetry by Barry Dempster, David Winwood, Medrie Purdham.
Questions of balance—between natural and man-made, between what once was and what can no longer be, between different selves, between parents and children, expectations and reality—permeate this issue. This same tension can been seen on the front cover, in the posture and gaze of the young man in Attila Richard Lukacs’ painting, Yellow (detail), 1994. An engrossing read from front to back.