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North End Love Songs.



The Muses Company



New Leaf Series



Brick Books

Katherena Vermette's North End Love Songs opens with an epigraph from Jeanette Winterson: "A tough life needs a tough language--and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers--a language powerful enough to say how it is."

Vermette's book, which won the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, illustrates just how powerful language can be. One poem at a time, these polished gems muster language back to its potent centre: push it up towards the light, propel it forward.

The book's opening section catalogues urban prairie birds. "blue jay" sees one "poised for flight/ one small foot/ on the curb/ like a sprinter/ this girl/ with such rough skin/ the colour of concrete/ in the rain/ this girl/ is ready/ to fly// her eyes pierce/ the wind pulls/ her hair back/ like a mother's hand/ making a ponytail/ she looks/ for a break// falls into/ a clumsy run/ dodges cars with more/ luck than precision/ lands triumphant/ on the other side."

With words stark and deliberate, lean lines that stir for survival, the Metis-Mennonite writer recounts her coming-of-age in Winnipeg's North End. Inspired by ghostly heavy metal ballads that thrum and throb their particular emotional undertow, she retraces her brother's disappearance after a night at the bar in November 1991, when Vermette was 14. His body was found in late spring, having drifted from river to lake. He was 18.

The book's penultimate section is titled "November." In the poem "lost" she writes, "her brother is missing/ like a glove/ or a sock/ a set of keys/ gone// his room empty/ the sheen on his posters/ dull from lack of light/ curtains closed// her brother is now/ a picture/ stuck to a tree/ a light post/ on tv once// he could be/ lying on a road/ in a field/ in the river/ maybe/ lost/ in the snow/ in nothing/ but his thin/ jacket/ his bare/ hands."

Riot Lung by Leah Horlick is published in Thistledown Press's New Leaf Series, which specializes in first books by emerging writers. Another "prairie grrl," Horlick is a Saskatchewan poet from Treaty Six Cree territory who is also a 2012 Lambda Literary fellow in poetry.

Like its title, this book of poems mixes the emphatic and the delicate, an outburst of protest and a shelter for all that carries oxygen in "towns too small/ to name ourselves." Like Vermette's work, it celebrates coming of age. A clamant intensity and quivering hope coexist in lines like "a tempest larkspurred in your eyes," and make the work sing, whether in extolling the right to a first love or describing love's sweetness and sting.

In "Itchy Legs," she writes, "Here, the welts from the two-hour river walk/ wading in sweetgrass up to my knees:// new tattoos swollen with red from mosquitoes/ [...] and further up, a memory of your hands/ on the one spot you like so much,/ a place I never thought about before."

Nora Gould's debut is another that develops links between love and landscape. Its intimacy is founded in respect for the gap between things, all life, plants, species, people.

With the precise eye of a veterinary doctor (her other profession), Gould's equanimity takes language beyond passion to "wakefulness." She also rehabilitates injured wildlife. In the piece "Grief submerged with her brilliant feet, tucked up in flight," the poet vacillates scenes of a "Northern Shoveler [which has] lost her eggs to crows," combing in tiny circles for food, with the momentum of a foaling mare.

The poem "I'd walk that path back to wakefulness" maps the deficient grace of our interconnectedness: "Now/ October, photo albums over tea, you rearrange time and/ I'm anguished by the cuckoo out of sync--you wait// for no bird as you push the hands. I've thawed/ blueberries and you stop reading to me the same poetry book/ you read aloud straight through yesterday..../ [...] I'm wondering when you will leave me// blueberry prints through the light background, a trail through the trees./ I'm perversely hoping./ I'd set that path with hot salt water."
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Title Annotation:Riot Lung and I See My Love More Clearly from a Distance
Author:Mays, Mariianne
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Everything Rustles.
Next Article:Reach for the Moon.

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