Reviewed by: Michael Dennis
"On the way to work we hold hands"
The last line of this excellent collection.
Alison Calder's conversational poems are both subtle and surprising. These poems sneak up on the reader, bite in when the moment is right.
In the tiger park, Harbin
In the tiger park, only Americans
can afford to throw a cow to the tigers,
if throw is the right word for a dull animal pushed with sharp sticks
till it stands among the pride of tourist buses.
No one is more frenzied
than the tourists, not even the tigers
who lean casually on the cow's flanks with their mouths
until it sinks slowly to the ground, resistant
as a Sunday roast. Still, it hurts, and dies, and everyone inside the bus
is loudly outraged at being ripped off, that it's not at all
like Wild Kingdom here at the city's edge,
not like what we thought we paid for.
"not like what we thought we paid for"
Alison Calder is a last line stone-cold killer. I love it. Isn't a great deal of life "not like what we thought we paid for"?
Calder has mastered the old 'bait and switch'. These poems lead you down one road only to find you've reached an unexpected destination, new illuminated by the light of your wide open eyes.
In Germany, I stood at the top of a tower and,
without warning, a roof opened across the road
and through a dark trapdoor
stepped a man in full morning dress,
black and white perfectly enunciated against the dull red tiles,
starched and dapper,
startling as an elephant.
Of course, there was an explanation:
chimney sweeps still wear the costumes of their guild,
they climb on roofs, and so on.
So really it was nothing: logical,
this beautiful shape appearing out of nowhere just
some Joe doing his job, mind full of cigarettes and overtime.
Descending the stairs, I emerged chastened
into a street full of bicycles, bakeries, graffiti,
myrrh-scented roses climbing the walls beside the bookstore.
It was remarkably pedestrian.
It's like a _____________, I thought.
Another trapdoor opened.
Today's book of poetry loved the gentle malevolence behind Calder's sweet wit. These poems feel familiar, all that deju-vu air, that comes when you connect. It is almost like you have been here before. That's the magic, Calder makes the reader feel at home - all the better for when she pulls the rug out from under your feet.
Don't think of an elephant
Drop your finger onto the map, and you will not hit
Yet the first bomb dropped on Berlin in World War II
killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo,
his death's logic no weirder
than his transplanted life behind statues
of the Tiergarten's Elephant Gate.
by cart, by ship, by train,
commercial lines reeled him into paddocks he could never
penned up in the wrong place, wrong time.
At the Gate his doubled likeness, hobbled, carries emperors
over cobblestones, escapes the zoo's walls
to annex the city. Behold
an image trampling on its model, heading
straight for the blank space at the centre
of the flag. Here the lion, here the rhino,
the animals of empire,
Meanwhile our elephant is only flesh.
As his granite twins, bejeweled, command the street,
he flaps his ears, eats candy. In the shade
he naps, swats flies, ambles pleasantly along
the inside of is fence, takes peanuts.
Drinking from his curled trunk,
he lifts his head. A thick-skinned beast
charges toward him from the sky.
In The Tiger Park, Alison Calder's second book, is filled with promise. Today's book of poetry promises you that young women who write like this end up being less young women who write like our Grand Dames. Hope that sounds like the compliment it was intended to be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Calder's first poetry collection, Wolf Tree, was published by Coteau Books in 2007. A selection of poems from this manuscript received the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for writing excellence by a writer under the age of 35.
Her poetry has been published in journals and anthologies, most notably Breathing Fire: Canada's New Poets and Exposed, and has twice circulated on Winnipeg city buses.
She is the editor of Desire Never Leaves: The Poetry of Tim Lilburn (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2007) and a critical edition of Frederick Philip Grove's 1924 novel Settlers of the Marsh (Borealis, 2006), and the co-editor of History, Literature, and the Writing of the Canadian Prairies (University of Manitoba Press, 2005).
Alison Calder was born in London, England, and raised in Saskatoon. She obtained her BA in English at the University of Saskatchewan before completing Masters and PhD programs at the University of Western Ontario. She teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of Manitoba.
She lives in Winnipeg with her husband, Warren Cariou.
"Will you join me?/ There is room for us both." Although what these capacious poems see (blind children in a museum, a white heron "delicate as a swizzle stick") draws us in, it is their balance of tenderness and wit, their eloquent reflection of loss and anticipated loss, that include and mark us."
Stephanie Bolster, author of A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth
"Calder measure the head of expectation and the weight of disappointment, figures entropy against inevitable return, and conjures the lyric as "a skull with missing teeth." This collection keeps an eloquent and sure-handed grip on the ladder of sublime disorder. It's a must-read for anyone thinking about the wild in the contemporary world."
Tanis MacDonald, author of The Daughter's Way: Canadian Women's Paternal Elegies
Reviewed by Michael Dennis.