How to Avoid Huge ShipsBy Julie BruckBrick Books, 92 pages, $ 20
Julie Bruck's fourth collection is an engaging sequel to the Governor General's 2012 Literary Award. Rancho dos Macacos. The title is borrowed from a 1982 Maritime Guide on Avoiding Dangers at Sea. For Bruck, a monarchist now living in San Francisco, these "loggers" are metaphors for all of us: the mortality, loss, and inevitable decline that comes with aging. But instead of being clear, she confronts them, in poems cleverly balanced between poignancy and arrogant humor, and full of evocative phrases. Throughout the collection, there is a frightening awareness of being "washed … on the difficult coast of time," whether she is writing that she is getting older or dealing with the death of her parents. Even a sunny poem about greeting her daughter returning from a camp ends with the observation of a bat ray, "an undulating black flag, which must have slipped under the shining boats, perhaps even scuffed its keels."
Port of BeingBy Shazia Hafiz RamjiInvisible Publishing, 96 pages, $ 19.95
In a poem from Shazia Hafiz Ramji's debut collection, the Vancouver poet notes "A drone that flies like a hummingbird," adding, "Google knows more than our lovers." Everywhere, there is a concern about surveillance technology in public spaces, including the online world (as she jokes about a poem, Hashtag secrets trends). Ramji herself is very attentive; these poems reproduce the "portions of emission, reflection, ample arches" of a satellite in an unstable – and disturbing – sweep that includes fragments of conversations heard, facts extracted from the news and observations on the urban landscape through which it passes. It focuses particularly on the nature of Vancouver as a port, a place of comings and goings, home and migration. In the final section of the book, Ramji affectively writes of fighting depression and addiction, "the thirst / happiness of Ativan." Whether inward or outward, these poems convey tense and convincing vigilance.
SKY WRI TEI NGSPor Nasser HussainCoach House, 96 pages, $ 19.95
It is not uncommon for a poet to adopt a restriction – a particular scheme or form of rhyme, like the sonnet. Nasser Hussain, who grew up in East Ontario and today teaches in Manchester, England, goes beyond the typical or traditional: the poems of his second collection are composed entirely of three-letter airport codes. It's a fun idea, and what's particularly entertaining is the wide range of subjects he goes through with an inventive touch, including "DES IRE", "ISL AMO PHO BIA" and "BOX DRE AMS", a tribute to Mohammad Ali. The collection is framed as a trip by air: "WEL CUM ABO ARD", writes Hussain. He takes considerable freedoms with spelling – DELE for "delayed," HIE for "high" – but this play is also a malicious exploitation of the elastic nature of language, and our ability to understand even if a word is misspelled. This is a flight worth taking aboard.
BranchesBy Mark TruscottBook * hug, 64 pages, $ 18
In a poem from Mark Truscott's third collection, he describes a line drawn on a piece of paper as "the beginning / endless association." This is an adequate description of the poet's own method of Toronto, which is to begin in a simple, even light way. , observation (the opening poem is the single line "A branch as a line as a branch") and builds an ever broader set of associations that grow in complexity throughout the book. These minimalist yet deeply meditative poems focus on the commonplace: like bare twigs framing the sky, the movement of clouds, as light reflects the wood. They amount to an interrogation of perception itself, and in particular the connection between thinking and seeing. As he puts it in a poem, "the scene extends beyond what the frame / vision can bring together." Truscott's spare phrasing is often wonderfully resonant, as in "Metaphor," where he writes about "Thought stacked / about thought or lens like / raindrops / attachment / to glass. "
Barbara Carey is a Toronto writer and Star poetry columnist.