Sunday, February 17, 2019

TWO NEW MICHAEL DENNIS CHAPBOOKS EXPLORE DEATH AND DIVINING

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Michael Dennis has been reviewing, or as he would say, "appreciating" poetry books on his Today's Book of Poetry blog for six years which makes me a little trepidatious when it comes to writing about poetry; he's so very good at it. Poet and Proper Tales Press publisher, Stuart Rossinterviewed Michael about his blog when it was just getting started. Since then Michael has posted his thoughts on over seven hundred books and chapbooks, including one of mine.

And now, hot off the press for 2019 are two new chapbooks by Michael himself: Divining (Proper Tales Press); and Sad Balloon (Monk Press). They're both quite wonderful and they're as different as can be.



Divining is a collection of centos based on lines taken from Margaret Laurence's 1974 novel, The Diviners, and as is often the case with this form, some of the poems work better than others. At least, that's what I thought on first reading; when I went back to have another look in order to write about them I found myself "getting" more of them. Here's one that worked for me from the get-go:


Let me look at you

A month away from it 
It was the ugliness of the smoke-blackened city
What if there were a fire
A relationship which is plainly going to be sexual
The swiftness of the encounter does not seem strange
Which is by no means a perfect arrangement
The cupboard contains one Guinness
That it could be you and not you — at the same time
Others bear somewhere within them the forms of fossils and shells
Let me look at you


The ends of the lines are left without any punctuation which works well. The lines feel as if they landed on the page a little like strewn petals at a procession. I like how reading them takes me back to reading The Diviners. Lines like However dour and bad tempered (The brood mares), I don't give a fuck what any of them think  (Having never begun), and Don't let the buggers on either side get you (Walking up the hill) remind me of meeting crusty Christie Logan for the first time while Not writing, looking at the river (No conviction) makes me think of Morag Gunn. Altogether a fun book to read.

The work in Sad Balloon are for the most part, somewhat sombre in tone and the poems are always, always deeply thoughtful. Yet deft touches of Michael Dennis humour shine through as in these lines from the poem

talking with Stuart Ross on the phone

was just talking with my old friend Stuart Ross
he and I have known each other a long time now
we speak often and about virtually everything
today it was about death
and it was about giving your wife flowers

the rules about flowers are easy
there is no situation
that flowers for your wife
will not improve


Who among us hasn't wondered about some of the questions raised in this one, for example:


surprise 

I've been watching all these happy videos
of men and women, soldiers
coming home from service overseas
and surprising their families

they are lovely videos
and deeply heart warming
you really can't watch 
without getting a tear

but I can't help but wonder 
about the surprise homecomings
where someone else
has been keeping a bed warm

one year or eighteen months
is a lifetime of changes
and some of these soldiers
must come home

to homes where they are not welcome
some soldiers must come home
to an entirely new narrative
and several surprises of their own


In Roxanne and Tiffany the poem starts with a simple observation of a street person and then moves into an exchange between the narrator and his companion. The way it ends has me wondering if we've known some of the same Gails!


Roxanne and Tiffany

Roxanne approaches
down the line of cars
with a haughty stagger
she might be losing her teeth
and what's left of her figure
she might be seriously stoned
or a little drunk
or both
but she's stoner-polite
and hopeful

she sees the old green Honda
I drive
Roxanne knows me by name

K and I were talking
as we sometimes do
and this time it was about
how names might shape destiny

and I put Roxanne forward
every Roxanne I ever met
was hard as nails
and usually for a reason

K said that Tiffany 
was the tough gal moniker
for her generation

but when I thought about it 
I figured any Roxanne
I'd ever met
could kick the crap
out of any Tiffany
on the planet

met a couple of tough gals
named Paula
and I know for a fact
that you should never
get in the way
of any woman named
Gail


A number of the fourteen poems in Sad Balloon make reference to friends who have died which, of course, gives rise to ruminations about the eventual demise of the narrator himself. My husband and I are in the process of getting down on paper (so bloody difficult for this writer; why is that?) our advance directives in the event of one or both of us being incapacitated and I found myself nodding appreciatively while reading several of the poems.

All of them, actually.

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