Subtitled “a poetry of witness,” Emily Pohl-Weary’s second poetry collection, Ghost Sick, reacts to a Christmas Eve shooting in her Toronto neighbourhood. As she describes in the opening poem, “Ghost Days”: “After the shooting / I floated through life / ephemeral, near invisible [.]” The poems in Ghost Sick attempt to articulate the way violence intrinsically changes a space, and the people within that space, even those who aren’t immediately affected by that violence. Even as Pohl-Weary composes her narrative quilt, attempting individual poems-as-poems around a single, explosive event, the distance between narrator and event occasionally feels too far.
The accumulative and collage nature of the narrative that emerges through the collection is intriguing, but most of the poems are rather straightforward, seeking to unfurl the narrative in language that rarely moves beyond the pure function of information. Whereas some might see this as a strength, I would have hoped for something more from the writing, as lines, sections and even whole poems fall flat, such as the two-page “My Bang Bang Heart,” that opens:
The summer my parents destroyed everything
we pretended to be a normal family one last time
watched Bonnie and Clyde at the repertory cinema
then chugged home half-asleep in Dad’s rusty blue car
divided and silent to find a skinny couple looting our house
Entered to the rustle of cans
clatter of drawers being pulled out
they’d come for me, I realized
someone heard the call
of my bang bang heart!
There is a surfeit of “telling” over “showing.” Pohl-Weary frequently constructs scenes that do not move enough beyond superficial description, almost belabouring such, before arriving at a point that is given far more weight than it requires. The frustration of Ghost Sick is in seeing the strength of certain pieces buried beneath extraneous lines and stanzas, such as the poem “Some Girls,” which includes five stanzas of opening before arriving, eventually, to what appears to be the point of the poem:
Some girls slither fearlessly through grass
when they ought to curl into balls
coil inward, knowing predators will approach
strike out in pain, wait for the right instant
the perfect prey
Pohl-Weary has an obvious strength in straightforward narrative, something she’s known for in her prose work, including novels, a biography and a series of “girl pirate comics,” but her poetry reads as relatively flat, reducing far too many of her lines to simply moving from point A to point B. There are the occasional exceptions, such as the poem “60 Reasons to Love Without Mercy,” reducing her otherwise-narrative to a point form, forcing her lines to live on their own merit (and they do so quite well).
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com
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