New Canadian Poetry

  • Ann Shin (Author)
    The Family China. Brick Books (purchase at
  • Dina Del Bucchia (Author)
    Blind Items. Insomniac Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Leah Horlick

Ann Shin’s The Family China is a multi-layered narrative of migration, settlement, and family in five suites—each delicately fragmented like the china doll on the book’s cover. Beautifully formatted with space and air on the page, Shin’s strength is in the shards of her line breaks and indentations, which break the tendency towards the prosaic: “That time is gone, / he is gone / and the world is not stopping / for the love of God.” While larger poems wrestle with aging and coming-of-age, loss, and identity, Shin’s language is at its most crisp and unforgettable in the series of footnote-like micropoems that hover throughout the text; this is Shin at her most condensed, sharp and immediate as she digs into the memories each word holds to presents a prismatic definition: “legacy: the sound / of plates at our / wedding when the / sambuca shots / came out: to life! / crash! to life! / thio Marcel had / the wrong plates . . .” Within the larger narrative there are moments where language dips into the fantastical (“I’ll add it to an armoire of lepidopterous dreams”). The Family China is at its most vibrant when the “jagged seams” are exposed, the words picked clean, and narrative smashed and reassembled in challenging new ways. In Dina Del Bucchia’s collection of “hypermodern confessional poems,” our fascination with celebrities is exposed in all its seamy, fabulous glory. Blind Items is an irresistible reimagining of the tabloid world, a mash-up of sensational celebrity daydreams, sexploits, and cruel reality. Julia Roberts? “She’s not even secretly mean.” James Franco? “He sounds like a baby goat,” the narrator assures us, the poetic equivalent of that friend you always invite to the party even though you know she’s lying—fabrications so good the truth doesn’t matter. The blind items in this collection, poems where the narrator is truly obscure and the object of the celebrity obsession a mystery, act as a grounding point for the text—revealing the loneliness of fame, the banality of drama: “Who said she wished for a better place/to work on whom to hate?” The risks of this work are myriad given the ever-changing world of illusion and Hollywood; rather than dating itself, Del Bucchia’s “Bill Cosby” poem in particular holds up after the terrifying reveal of his predatory behavior. These poems are at their strongest when they brush up against that frightening possibility of realness, of childhood obsession and the truly nightmarish quality of celebrity worship: in “Courtney Love,” the narrator’s voice is particularly haunting: “I would have been okay to just huff gas in the corner of the garage, but instead she guides me, barefoot in Dior, through the dark.” Reminiscent of the edgiest collusion of narrative, celebrity, and sex—Amber Tamblyn’s “Bang Ditto” and Daphne Gottlieb’s “Fucking Daphne” come to mind—Blind Items is a brilliant hallucination of entertainment, emotion, and excess, and the reader can’t help but trust the narrator and dive right into the celebrity wreck.

This review “New Canadian Poetry” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 144-45.

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