Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lyndsay Kirkham reviews Jennifer Baker’s Abject Lessons (2014) in Broken Pencil #68

Lyndsay Kirkham was good enough to review Jennifer Baker’s Abject Lessons (2014) in Broken Pencil #68. Thanks so much! This is actually the second full review of Baker’s chapbook (apart from Cameron Anstee’s mention), after Ryan Pratt reviewed such over at the ottawa poetry newsletter. And of course, copies of Baker’s chapbook is still very much available. As she writes:

This new chapbook by Ottawa-based poet Jennifer Baker is a standout collection that provokes not only in its entirety, but also in its individual missives, returning to the reader long after the initial ingestion. Baker’s free verse is stitched together by her overarching theme of “place”; Abject Lessons also nudges at more nuanced concepts such as, Canadian geography, the home, and gendered canonical placement, while constantly echoing a deeply personal longing to understand one’s own place.
            There is a playful undercurrent of literary theory throughout Baker’s collection that manages to avoid heavy handed pretentions, functioning less as an ostentatious device and more as an authentic octave in the poet’s voice, leaving her words accessible to all readers.
            Many of the pieces in Abject Lessons blend the personal and political, offering an inner scenery that doubles as a critical lens for larger ideas such as colonialism and “Twitter Feminism.” It is after a full reading of “Pilgrim” that a reader feels the full impact of the author’s ability to dance with competing partners: Canadian history and her family’s personal journey.
            Punctuation (with only an occasional em-dash, colon or ampersand) floats through the entire collection like a ghost. One feels that extensive editing has extracted all mechanical signposts from the poems, the absence working as a tool for reader-framed meaning making.
            A minimal number of the selections, particularly “Abject Lessons VIII” and “Abject Lessons X” impress themselves on the reader as mere filler, lacking any obvious relationship with the remainder of the collection’s broader scope. In contrast, with further development both “Pilgrim” and “Dwelling” have potential to be their own collections.
            With a guttural and rhythmic measure, Abject Lessons leaves the reader with dirty finger nails, and an unexpected loathing of Irving Layton; a gem in above/ground’s solid backlist, worth the $4.

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