BC Lit in Extra Innings
- Claude Boisvert (Author)
Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number 9. Coach House Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Susan Musgrave (Author)
The Fed Anthology. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Travis V. Mason
Susan Musgrave bookends The Fed Anthology with poems by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. If Crozier’s sombre, elegaic “Needles” sets the tone by offering alterative ways into the anthology (through either sharp or blunt hypodermics), Lane’s “The Death-Watcher” reaffirms the tone and offers a way out, a “portal” through which to escape. Chances are, though, you won’t be escaping soon after reading this collection of new fiction and poetry from the Federation of BC Writers. Between entrance and exit are accomplished stories and poems about serious issues: unhappy marriages, divorce, infidelity, illness, miscarriages, parenthood, old age, absence, loss, violence, abuse. Musgrave has chosen carefully from the federation’s thousand members and produced a collection (marking the group’s 25th anniversary) consistent in tone and featuring works similar in theme. While serious, these previously unpublished works are also refreshingly current, fresh as a centenarian’s vomit. This last simile refers to one of the collection’s notable exceptions to the rule of seriousness, Patrick King’s “The Birthday Wish,” narrated by “the first person to reach a century” at Golden Oaks Home for seniors.
I am not suggesting that serious is not compelling if done well. Musgrave successfully intersperses the collection’s 30 poems amongst the 22 stories. Along with Crozier and Lane are a handful of other recognizable names, Alan Twigg, Betsy Warland, W.H. New, Linda Rogers, David Watmough, and Tom Wayman among them.
While each piece, individually, invites readers to find hope beyond the very real, very
ordinary subjects and events they depict, the cumulative result can be a hardening rather than a heartening. These are earnest pieces rendered with varying degrees of earnestness, and some, not surprisingly, are more successful than others. For the majority of authors represented here, presumably, hope lies in the act of writing itself; for their characters, however, hope is embodied more by local retreat: whether it’s the naked, Hochtaler-drinking painter trying to find her bearings in a Denman Island cabin on September 11, 2001, in Laura J. Cutler’s “The Implosion,” or the three-foot-eleven retired naturalist spying bears just outside of Sechelt in Watmough’s “The Naturalist.”
This sense of the local similarly permeates George Bowering’s Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number of 9. Republished by Coach House Press, the second edition of Bowering’s book-length ode to his favourite game fittingly triples the total number of copies with a print run of 1000 to complement the 500 printed in 1967. While a triple might not be the rarest of feats in baseball, it is the offensive play that makes hitting for the cycle one of the most difficult accomplishments in sports – rare enough, that is, to be as exciting and elusive as this little book. Thirty-seven years after the original, Gar Smith’s enchanting design – a green-velvet covered pennant shape that unfolds to form a diamond – remains refreshingly green and enticingly velvety. Here’s a book that reminds us all over not to get too comfortable with The Book’s formally conservative tendencies. The poetry, too, unsettles readers’ unfortunate preference for conventional verse about conventional themes.
Bowering simultaneously sings the game’s mythical universality, its popular and its Pacific Northwest history, and its grassroots lyric mythology. He doesn’t create so much as report on a world in which “God is the Commissioner of Baseball / Apollo is the president of the Heavenly League,” old Indian chief Manuel Louie tries out at shortstop for the class-A Wenatchee Chiefs, and Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, et al., satisfy their statistical destinies, all under the watchful eye and critical pen of the official scorer for the Oliver Chronicle. If the idea of putting baseball before hockey, especially in 1967, seems un-Canadian, keep in mind neither Bowering’s book nor the game itself is about the Canada imagined by the country’s traditional cultural “center.” Rather, it is about art, inspiration, and the poet/ fan whose “body depends on the game.” It is also about caring, about paying attention to how “a man breathes differently / after rounding the bag.”
- The Natural by Laura Robinson
Books reviewed: Birdheart by Elana Woldd, Holding Pattern by Shane Rhodes, Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah, The Goddess in the Garden by Carolyn Zonailo, and A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking by matt robinson
- Two Budding Talents by R. W. Stedingh
Books reviewed: Pool-Hoppping and Other Stories by Anne Fleming and Comfort Me with Apples by Sara O\'Leary
- Two by Four by Karl Jirgens
Books reviewed: Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee by Christian Bök, Exact Fare Only 2: Good Bad & Ugly Rides on Public Transit by Ian Cockfield, Stevenson Under the Palm Trees by Alberto Manguel, and With Borges by Alberto Manguel
- Art of Translation by Tanis Macdonald
Books reviewed: Volta by Susan Gillis, Colville's People by Carol Malyon, and From Dark Horse Road by Ellen McGinn
- Love, Familiar and Fractious by Mike Borkent
Books reviewed: Lean-To by Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen and Love Outlandish by Barry Dempster
MLA: Mason, Travis V. BC Lit in Extra Innings. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #185 (Summer 2005), (Stratton, Compton, Morra, Wylie, Gordon). (pg. 171 - 172)
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