- Patrick Lane (Author)
Last Water Song. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Melanie Little (Author)
The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain. Annick Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Brian Bartlett (Author)
The Watchmaker's Table. Goose Lane Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Last Water Song is the much-awaited new collection from one of Canada's finest poets, a series of poems in two parts that demonstrates Patrick Lane's acclaimed talent and technique. This collection reveals Lane's courage of expression, his unabashed vulnerability in exploring what is, what was, and what might have been.
In Part One, Lane pays homage to writers and colleagues who have died. These elegiac poems read like conversations Lane wishes he could have with the dead. Central to each piece is Lane's appreciation for the named writers' works and influence. To Adele Wiseman he writes, "I loved your words and taught them to the young. They seemed to understand. Seemed, not did." To Al Purdy he writes, "Following your mind was like my wandering in South America years ago. I knew there was no end, it was the going I had to learn, the nowhere we all get to." And, to Irving Layton he writes, "you showed a way for me to write myself toward a paradise and though I never got there, still, it was all in the reaching. I too have wanted to sing in the throat of a robin." Lane's recollections speak to the refuge he found in the poetry and, in some cases, the homes of his subjects, just as they speak to the taking of his own place among Canada's best poets. For example, in "For Milton Acorn" he writes, "Today I'm trying to find a piece of myself I lost. Instead I find you."
The poems in Part Two are infused with images of light, earth, and water as they explore isolation, grief, and fear. In "Lookout," Lane illustrates the loneliness arises through careful examination of seemingly ordinary things, such as the light on the plains or the "abandoned hulk of a turtle." Though far from directive, some of Lane's pieces in this section are proverbial, adding to the seriousness of his take on love, life, and the passing of time. In his shortest poem of the collection, "Journeys and Returns," Lane makes light of the passing of time and, though the sand flea has one of the shortest life spans of all the earthly species, reminds us that "Our lament makes the sand fleas dance. / Their tiny wings know a great secret."
The nature of time, and the inevitability of its passing, is the subject of several of Brian Bartlett's poems in The Watchmaker's Table. "The Sideways 8" tells the story of the speaker's daughter who one day comes home with the grade one knowledge of the "biggest number of all" and "laughs as if endlessness were a joke / only a child can get." In "Breathing and Reading," a father and his son read books in bed together, while they can, since "the father knows nights will come / when the son wants to tumble into sleep alone / so he doesn't budge." Time itself is the speaker in the playful piece called "Time Stands Up for Itself." Time in this poem is not just forceful, but cheeky: "Your poor metaphors try to trap me / but you can't save or spend me. . . I am the space between heartbeat / and heartbeat." But, arguably, Bartlett's most clever and powerful poem in the collection is "Travels of the Watch." In this poem, a watch, thankful it is not a clock doomed to hang on the wall, gets to play while its owner unstraps it, drops it on the bedside table, and makes love to her man: "It makes the hour hand go / fast as the second hand, the second hand slow / as the hour." The watch lolls, "stretching between a glass of wine / and a nine-hundred-page novel." But, "even the watch / grows tired of time and wishes it could / unstrap itself, / cast itself off, / sustained by some other heartbeat."
Melanie Little's The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain takes readers to the Spanish Inquisition, to a time of fear, betrayal, and bloodshed. Young Ramon Benveniste, a scribe's fifteen-year-old son, works as his father's apprentice during this period of strict edicts and confusing rituals. Fifteenth-century Spain hosted an enlightened culture where Jews, Muslims, and Christians respectfully co-existed. However, Queen Isabella put that enlightened time to an end. Ramon's family of conversos (Jews converted to Christianity) are ever watchful of their behaviours since neighbours, acquaintances, and even friends are known to turn people in for the slightest infraction in order to protect themselves from harm. Before long, Ramon and his family's young Muslim slave, Amir, find themselves on a dangerous journey where they both confront their families' pasts while simultaneously securing their futures.
Wonderfully written in eloquent verse, Little's story captures the power and importance of history, story-telling, and words, especially during times of instability and conflict. Every page is a poem, a place where her unforgettable characters come alive.
- Lest We Forget by Coral Ann Howell
Books reviewed: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- Authors Contribute to South Asian Narratives by Sharanpal Ruprai
Books reviewed: Her Mother's Ashes 3: Stories by South Asian Women in Canada and the United States by Nurjehan Aziz, In the Wake of Loss by Sheila James, and The Fourth Canvas by Rana Bose
- Tête ailleurs et désertion by Carlo Lavoie
Books reviewed: La tête ailleurs by Hélène Vachon and La désertion by Pierre Yergeau
- Dreaming of Butterflies by Margaret Steffler
Books reviewed: Flame of Separation by Des Kennedy, The Migration of Butterflies by Carol Malyon, and Honour Thy Mother by T.C. Badcock
- Landmark Translations from Literary Québec by Susan Knutson
Books reviewed: Miss September by Sheila Fischman and Francois Gravel, Cruelties by Lise Bissonnette and Sheil Fischman, Fragments of a Farewell Letter Read by Geologists by Normand Chaurette and Linda Gaboriau, and Wintersleep by Marie-Claire Blais and Nigel Spencer
MLA: Bartlett, Brian, Lane, Patrick, Little, Melanie, Shatford, Darlene, Shatford, Darlene, and Shatford, Darlene. Time Keepers. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #202 (Autumn 2009), Sport and the Athletic Body. (pg. 116 - 117)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.