Frenetic, Instructive, Bossy

Patty Osborne

Each of the fast-paced poems in Our Days in Vaudeville was written by two people, one of whom was always Stuart Ross, so, as the cover blurb tells us, they are “two-headed”; but readers may wish for even more heads than that as they try to keep up with the rapidly changing and often unrelated images that flash out from every line. It may be possible to get whiplash from reading this book.

The less frenetic poems in Monkey Soap were made with words, phrases and sentences that Glen Downie pulled from, among other things, a treatise on gourmandism, a penmanship manual, a handyman’s guide, a couple of fashion advice books and dialogue from film noir. There’s something about the poetic arrangement of otherwise mundane instructions, dialogue or advice that, for a fleeting moment opens our minds to the possibility that we may have discovered a guiding principle that we didn’t know we had been seeking. Then we smile and chuckle and move on.

The bossy poems in What the World Said by Jason Camlot instruct us more emphatically as they tell us to “Be jubilant!” “Count!” “Fight!” “Study!” “Don’t guess,” “Never ride the bus” and “Divide the sadness period into time.” Death and hell come along too, as does some more cheerful wordplay. You’ll need to get over your first rebellious reaction to being told what to do (and there, I’m telling you what to do!) so that, with repeated readings, you’ll come to appreciate the depth of the writing.

Dear Leaves, I Miss You All, a book of short stories by Sara Heinonen, starts out with the two weakest stories in the collection, but since I was reading it during an unexpected two-hour wait in a doctor’s office, I kept going and discovered good, solid writing about flawed but hopeful people, many of whom are affected by or even obsessed with trees. In a few of the stories, introductory sections get in the way of a proper jump into the story but just skim by them—it’ll be worth it.

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