Thursday, October 16, 2014

new from above/ground press: Abject Lessons, by Jennifer Baker

Abject Lessons
Jennifer Baker



barn swallow barrel rolls
and phonemic slippages

chase cloud-shadow yokelisms
back to the bush


until I was 15
I believed a crick was different
from a creek

stretched thinner
scraping itself under roads
through aluminum tunnels
populated with turtles
a crick snapped


olfactory archeology
of sawdust, oil and earth
reveals a sitting-room with wood panelling
and that John Wayne clock
his legs tick-tocking

Whaddayasay Pilgrim


the ghost I never met, but imagined
wading among the bones of drowned horses
down by the crick

is missing half his face

he reaches out to me
through his brother's ruined life
& my mother's anxious vigilance

he once followed me to Montreal
and came back to life

he still grips me by the diaphragm
and mocks my unshakeable belief
that I can be ready for anything 


since 10th grade
Del Jordan has been whispering in my ear
forget the lurking idyll
it all comes out gothic

no unicorns but horse bones
swallowed by the quick sand
at the edge of the field


my grandfather's accounts of this
are unconfirmed but by the fact
that I sank thigh-deep in sewage
in the recently harvested field
on Thanksgiving Day when I was 7

my older brother
like so many times since
pulled that screaming child
from the stinking earth
that threatened to swallow her

this is a photograph of me


don't tell my mother

it all comes out gothic
despite the lurking idyll

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
October 2014
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Jennifer Baker
was raised in Exeter, Ontario, where she divided her time between town and her grandparents’ farm. She is currently a part-time professor and PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa.

[Jennifer Baker launches Abject Lessons as part of the pre-ottawa small press book fair reading on November 7, 2014 at The Carleton Tavern, alongside Dave Currie, Frances Boyle, Anita Dolman and Stuart Ross]

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Amanda Earl reviews Sarah Rosenthal's Estelle Morning Star (2014), Hugh Thomas' Albanian Suite (2014), N.W. Lea's Present! (2014), Camille Martin's Sugar Beach (2014), Eric Baus' THE RAIN OF THE ICE (2014) and Rachel Moritz' Many forms in water (2014)

Amanda Earl was good enough to review Sarah Rosenthal's Estelle Morning Star (2014), Hugh Thomas' Albanian Suite (2014), N.W. Lea's Present! (2014), Camille Martin's Sugar Beach (2014), Eric Baus' THE RAIN OF THE ICE (2014) and Rachel Moritz' Many forms in water (2014) as a group post on a variety of above/ground press in 2014 so far over at her enormously clever blog (might this be a time to remind you about the 2015 subscriptions?). Thanks, Amanda! See her original post here, and all of the titles she mentioned are still available (so far). And, for those keeping track, there are three previous reviews of Martin's chapbook here and here and here, a previous review of Baus' chapbook here, a previous review of Lea's chapbook here, and two previous group reviews that include Lea and Thomas here and even here.
hunting for the dark: above/ground press...2014 so far...

on an unseasonably rainy & cold night in mid-August I had an appetite for the above. I wanted to look in less obvious places. I have a stack of above/ground press chapbooks published in 2014, since i am a subscriber…i was curious to see if any of the authors had a penchant for the Gothic, etc. what i found primarily was an overriding tone of anxiety concerning the monotony of 21st century existence. seems scary enough to me...

Sarah Rosenthal’s "Estelle Morning Star" fits the bill nicely with descriptions of women carrying “dying dead things” “emaciated/mangled/animals” I love her turns of phrase & odd juxtapositions, a sense of the macabre amongst business like celebration: “hard core birds in the / ballroom throw themselves/at convention windows/clatter to the table      their/colours running out.” she paints a vivid picture. Estelle wears mary janes.

Hugh Thomas gives us absurd portraits of anxious composers pursued by fierce demons in "Albanian Suite."“When I was with you, the ravens/and milktrucks made such music.” a fun use of black & white. in “Epithalamion” there are bite-marked necks, the monotony of waiting. “It misunderstands today’s poetry/overgrown with wildflowers to forget these sojourners.”  “Poetry is a pagoda, built of friendly embracings, like a square dance complicating society” … a ticket to days of radishes/and saliva” not to discount the beauty in these poems. it’s there between ice-cold moments: “Time, you murderous sun fills my lungs with honey,” there’s something sweetly chilling about that image. & another from “Selfportrait Unwilling to Sit”: “a tramcar apocalypse/on the move/dragging behind dissonance, divine regret.” there’s something Gothic about that image. & in “Metropolitan”: “The two sicknesses frequent in this epoch are heat and isolation.” Thomas’ poems alternate between the tiniest, spot on observations to elaborate, absurd images. I have to say, this is one of my favourite chapbooks this year so far. some of the poems are translations.

In "Present!" N.W. Lea opens with a gangster with rubber extendable arms holding someone up like a baby. an absurd image & not without its horrifying effect…followed later in the next poem in the sequence by “the swans of hurt/burn circles in the snow” there’s lots here about the terror of mundanity, of the burbs…even a littered cough candy is menacing: “a pale pink/half-sucked lozenge/on the pavement/glinting//plus us//have to contend with the teeth of the neighbourhood” you are “snug in your death-sweater.” there are “great swarms/of dusk-bats” "Present!" is a sequence of estrangement.

there are some menacing animals & a kind of helplessness, a monotony in Camille Martin’s "Sugar Beach:" “A leap of leopards under a crescent moon/happens without us, but we’re there/just the same.” “Newfangleness” Sharpshooters are juxtaposed with picnics in “Blind Engine.” In “No Such Identical Horses,” Martin writes, “I was counting on my favourite superstition/to endow the mirage with authority.” There are rotted leaves, wormy fruit, a beast stampeding down a trail, “the chitinous exoskeleton of a locust” & in the title poem a feeling of wasted extravagance in an image of a rusty tanker scooping “mounds of raw sugar.”  “Machine in the Ghost” evokes a cemetery scene. The poems in this chapbook are sound & image collages.

Eric Baus gives us fanciful nightmares of octopi with burned tentacles, ghosts, insects in “The Rain of Ice.” I loved how imaginative & unusual these prose poems were.

In “Many forms in water,” Rachel Moritz gives us white coffins, bitter flowers, gathering storms, “the ribbon of heat rising past digits black in air.” In “The finished forms in the sand record movement that has ceased,” this is a particularly grotesque image: “I carried her through the woods, slept in waterlogged leaves with her body on my chest.” This poem & the others manage to create a tone of melancholy, grief, poignant emotions. I’m quite enamoured of these poems, especially imagery like “How we carried the bell down irrevocable stairs, passed our sentence of doubt and kept moving.” in “Flowing water encounters a widely submerged outside.”