I wasn’t going to write about this book because heaven knows, it doesn’t need any more reviews, big or small. Long or short. Monkey Ranch won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for poetry last year, and that has a way of getting a book out there. I picked up a copy because I was curious to see what kind of poems were chosen to win in this most recent nod.
And I was pleasantly surprised, because the poems in Julie Bruck’s book (nice alliterative ring, that) are accessible. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind doing a little work to get into a poem, but sometimes it’s a real slog and I’m still not sure I’ve “got it”, or if I'm even supposed to. Not so with Bruck's poems. Their quotidian simplicity speaks volumes. There’s funny stuff and there’s heavy stuff, and it all comes out in a way I can trust.
A shout out to Brick Books, who published Monkey Ranch. I don’t know who was responsible for choosing that cover image, a detail from Cookie…waiting, a painting by Donald Roller Wilson, but it’s perfect. Wilson’s website is wild! Well worth a visit, but I have to say, text in all caps AND reversal is really hard to read.
I noted in the acknowledgements that one of the poems, How to Be Alone, first appeared in Literary Mama. (I’ve been published there, too, a poem that’s been anthologized twice now!) Only one of the lines in Bruck's poem has been changed; in the online version the second to last line is in present tense and in print, it’s past. A small, deft edit.
Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad is a gut-wrenchingly compelling anti-war poem. In it, six men, including the father of the boy, hunt for a teenager’s body. Or what’s left of it. “This is his shoe! a man cried out, I bought it for him.”
A poem called The Wooden Family, has me wondering where my little wooden family got to, because I have one somewhere. Mine has only three members, and they look sort of like Vikings, but faceless, as are the ones described in Bruck’s poem.
…Smooth ‘50s teak,
they’re featureless, simple shapes,
the kind that can trouble small children,
since they lack eyes, noses and mouths.
In the game of Clue a monkey wrench is one of the potential murder weapons. The poems in Monkey Ranch are just as capable of getting your attention.