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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > APRIL 2017 > Jam bands

Jam bands

Volumes from Mary di Michele and Suzannah Showler showcase similar poets at different career stages


* Bicycle Thieves

Mary di Michele

ECW Press

* Thing Is

Suzannah Showler

McClelland & Stewart

TWO NEW VOLUMES find similar poets at very different stages of their careers: the established Mary di Michele and the emerging Suzannah Showler. The similarities lie in their formal practice: new formalist lyrics with heavily enjambed stanzas are the dominant form in both books. But the works differ in subject matter: di Michele’s Bicycle Thieves is more canted toward place and the past, while Showler’s Thing Is focuses more on the movements of consciousness.

Bicycle Thieves could be read as a hymn to formational places in the poet’s life: Italy, Toronto, but especially Montreal. “Scotopia,” the first poem in the volume, functions as an epigraph to the whole, with the image of the cross on the mountain orienting readers in the text just as the physical cross does the denizens of that city: “Beacon shining from the top of Mount Royal, / a cross, unblinking under Capricorn.”

The opening section celebrates the continuities of decades in Montreal, while also waxing elegiac over the deaths of the poet’s parents, and meditating on the ways the place simultaneously becomes transformed by their absence and prompts reminders of their presence: “This morning I saw my father driving a red / Toyota wagon with Quebec plates, je me / souviens, turning the corner at Grand.” As the title of the book suggests, cinema also makes its way into these poems – not only in the form of de Sica’s 1948 classic but also with references to Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal. A poem like “De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette” could be described as ekphrastic (cinephrastic?): “I can no longer get past that scene / where Maria pawns her matrimonial linen.”

Bicycle Thieves concerns itself with memory and reflection, and with examining the scale of a life from the perspective of one’s 60s. The highlight of the book is “Life Sentences,” a marvellous sequence of reflective haiku that accumulate to represent a life. The sequence becomes an autobiographical Künstlerroman, detailing the development of a poet who, in reading Keats’s Romantic ballad “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” “learn[s] to speak the language / of the dark muse.” There are 100 haiku in the sequence, a round yet arbitrary number, evoking the capriciousness of imposing a narrative pattern on a life, even one’s own. “Death and Transfiguration in New York City” also turns toward the past, specifically the execution of Timothy McVeigh in the summer leading up to 9/11: “As ravenous as pterodactyls / in the sky above us airplanes wheel.”

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