New poetry volume strong awards contender

Sunday, October 26th, 2003

By Alison Calder

"It is the end/ of October in Winnipeg, and the Earth/ feels us crawling/ toward winter," writes Melanie Cameron in wake (The Muses' Company, 127 pages), her second poetry collection.

Her previous book, Holding the Dark, was shortlisted for the best first book prize at the Manitoba Book Awards. Wake will be a strong contender for awards this time as well.

Much here will be familiar to Winnipeg residents: she writes about the Golden Boy, Riel's statue, and the St. Boniface Cathedral, and her work moves out from these specifics to become a long meditation on memory and its relation to place.

In Cameron's Winnipeg, place collapses time and memory. Her loosely drawn characters remember events yet to happen, and become unsure about what happened in the past.

Recalling the girl he will one day meet, the boy in the opening suite of poems thinks with certainty "he remembers this," but then asks, "but does he really remember?"

The structure of Cameron's collection echoes her themes of blurred boundaries, as particular phrases and images recur, altered and dreamlike.

Trout Stream Creed (Coteau Books, 113 pages, $15) is Saskatchewan writer David Carpenter's first book of poetry, but readers of his seven earlier books, fiction and non-fiction, will know that he is already an expert at waxing lyric about fishing.

His background as a prose writer shows in his ability to capture the spoken voice, as he does to effect in the funny and moving poem My Father's Dying.

The title poem blends sophisticated literary references with statement of naive wonder to produce a heartfelt prayer for ecological responsibility. It should be require reading for anyone who's ever donned a pair of leaking waders.

Bruce Rice's third book, The Illustrated Statue of Liberty (Coteau, 103 pages, $13) gives voice to people held by various medical and state institutions.

While his poems about immigration to America are historically based, given current events they are particularly topical. Many of these poems deal with visual art: Rice has several about the photographer Diane Arbus.

The most successful poems based on artworks take off from historical stereoscopic prints, where the doubleness of the photograph allows for a doubled poem that comments on both photo and itself.

The Porcupine's Quill has released the first volume of Always Now (253 pages, $20, the collected poems of Margaret Avison, winner of the 2003 Griffin Prize.

Volume 1 contains her early work (from Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding, both published in the 1960s) as well as extracts from her Selected Poems. It is a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in Canadian literature.

Alison Calder teaches Canadian literature at the University of Manitoba.