A review of The Night ChorusYellow CraneThe RitualitesNouveau GriotMagnetic Equator by Harold HoefleSusan GillisMichael NardoneTanya EvansonKaie Kellough

Published on March 23, 2019

Kaie Kellough is conducting inquiries into a life of multiples – identities, continents, homes – and investigating how containing multitudes can create a feeling of disorientation. As a harnesser of that complexity, an artist from many ancestors can put the search for answers to the profound questions raised by racism, diaspora, and migration into words, and in doing so immortalize their own, intricate identities.

Magnetic Equator
Kaie Kellough

McClelland & Stewart

Magnetic Equator is the third collection from this poet, novelist, and sound performer, and it is a masterpiece. Deep isolation envelops these pieces in their tireless travels from the rainforests of Guyana to the prairies of Western Canada, the beaches of Vancouver to the snowy streets of Montreal. Moments of connection become intimate, as when the speaker finds himself on the same flight as someone on a similar journey:

along the seam between worlds
she is my context

returning after 30 years, and i am hers
at 39 visiting for the first time. my aunt saunters over

& we three become a nation: black, mixed, indian
without a flag to waved, without an anthem, foreign attrition

His sense of place-making revels in detail while refraining from over-contextualization, allowing for a natural progression of the reader’s recognition. Surroundings can be hostile, they can be conflicted, they can contain safety or tragic histories in their fronds:

                                                                             the roads constrict. a bicycle held
together by rust, grease, desire, balances. inches fly. the japanese car gears
up, down.

One of the most compelling leitmotifs in Magnetic Equator is that of the river. Whether it’s the Potaro flowing to the momentous Kaieteur Falls or the Bow serving as the “natural grammar” relief from the skyscrapers and suburbs of Calgary, rivers are powerful: they create constant movement while sustaining their own life cycles. Kellough’s search is a river that carries us from place to place with a current of self-assurance, and in his deconstructions of language, history, and identity, he creates a sweeping epic in Magnetic Equator that is stunning in its scope. (MH)


Nouveau Griot, the second collection from Antiguan-Canadian multidisciplinary artist Tanya Evanson, is a retrospective on twenty years of art that takes you full circle through the career of an exhilarating and underrated fixture in the Canadian poetry scene.

Nouveau Griot
Tanya Evanson

Frontenac House

Tanya Evanson’s work takes a bird’s-eye approach to humanity and spirituality, with a friendly but existential questioning of the folly of Western life. She establishes herself as a contemporary griot – a West African traditional leader whose roles often include poet, singer, and historian. What she achieves through this position of authority is an omniscient wisdom; Evanson knows something that we don’t, but she’s willing to show us the way. Like a decolonial Greek chorus, she mirrors our own transgressions back at us with humour and sincerity, as in “Internetahlagy”:

Before Records or RAM, radio, radiation
We had slowness. A real root directory. We were tight with the world.

I find myself connecting her work to that of Zora Neale Hurston: another artist enmeshed in the world of folktales whose approach to rhythm and tone had a similar spring to its step.

More than observational, these works are experiential, multilingual explorations of the lives of other people, other cultures, other forms of thinking, and the ways in which we can learn from each other.

These poems exist at the macro level, considering issues from a broad, global perspective – in “Mundo Gumbo,” an entire life begins and eases itself joyfully towards death using the format of a recipe Evanson appears to know by heart. In a less expressive poet such forays could come off as condescending, but Evanson takes big risks with playfulness that almost always pay off:

Put the okra back in because Saturn be Returning to the place she was at
when you were born. This is called a cosmic bitch slap.

Even though Nouveau Griot is compiled from years of on-stage and in-studio work (Invisible World, The Memorists, Language for Gods, and Zenship), the way it coheres as a collection speaks to just how consistently Evanson has been “making human history personal” and opening readers’ eyes to a more globally-minded perspective of our current struggles. (MH)


While reading The Ritualites, Michael Nardone’s second collection of poetry, I found myself considering our society’s obsession with talking, and how much less interest it has in listening to what is being said. Nardone uses sound recording and transcription processes at loca- tions across North America as the basis for this collection, and the result is an exercise in radical empathy that shows how much we stand to gain by listening to each other:

We owe each other everything

I haven’t been talking much

But I’ve got stories

With its carefully tuned ear, The Ritualites takes public exchanges and interrogates them to find the intimacies within.

The Ritualites
Michael Nardone


By recontextualizing literature found at the airport (self-help books, a Tom Clancy novel, a George W. Bush memoir), Nardone constructs a sinister reflection of Americana in “Unfixed Territories”; here, the rituals of the American dream are laid before us in their own language, and the results are caricatures of the exploitative tourism industry and the religious underpinnings to American militarism. Dystopia, too, makes an appearance in the ever-escalating drama of “Airport Novel,” the end- point of which serves as a chilling analogy for the prison- industrial complex:

Do you hear the thundering of wheels? Those are the train cars rolling on and on. Every minute of the day. Every day of the year. And you can hear the water gurgling—those are prisoners’ barges moving on and on. They are arresting someone all the time, cramming him in somewhere, moving him about.

Considering its often-aggressive subject matter and occasionally dense wordplay, The Ritualites is, at its core, superbly gentle. Nardone has taken the concept of the poetic ear and concretized it through his ambitious experiment in listening and documentation. The effect is a work of multifaceted complexity that rewards myriad interpretations. (MH)


The title and cover of poet Susan Gillis’s latest poetry collection, Yellow Crane, suggest nature. But a construction crane is visible through the tree branches, which points to the collection’s theme: that we are constructed of our choices and of what we choose to pay attention to. The author’s thoughts run long; the poem “Overture,” for example, is thirty-one pages, and time unfolds slowly in a seventeen-page poem about a construction crane. Gillis isn’t directing a plot-driven thriller.

Yellow Crane
Susan Gillis

Brick Books

Observations and reflections on writers such as Czesław Miłosz and Xi Chuan appear at the bottom of the page in parallel to the main text, a structure that’s similar to Emilia Nielsen’s Body Work. Whereas with Nielsen the text at the bottom of the page is in juxtaposition to the main text, Gillis’s text has the feeling of footnotes or meditations on the main text. The effect is like a commonplace book, which to this reader is a delightful thing. There’s an oceanic give and take back to the ideas as they roll. Take “the play of light that does and does not resemble a searchlight,” or the drunken gaze of the man staring at the sea and at death “in its dark wetsuit— / okay, not quite that.”

Tone varies like in an intimate conversation, such as when a friend shows off the sights of past lakeside campsites, “so close to the road I can just about read the tent labels.” There’s an irreverence for pastoral tone, and telling inner talk: “oh shut up, I say / and grip my duende’s hand a little tighter.” Consider the feeling of ache in “Fieldwork” as the narrator’s father dies:

I wish the plane that rebels shot down
could have hung on an updraft

the way a piece of field fluff holds on a current of air,
suspended as though in a web,

not blown apart but held.
We go through life forgetting

how tender things can be.

Often, while reading, I had to stop to savour turns of phrase, feeling satisfied. The effect of the poems allows us to de-escalate our- selves until we can appreciate the subtlety of the weight of the word lemon versus the weight of the word thought. You are let in on the contemplations as they develop, and you can see the source water and other currents mixing at the mouth. (PP)


Behind the gorgeous cover of Harold Hoefle’s The Night Chorus is grim and gritty storytelling. Hoefle is gunning for unrelenting significance and finds the monumental late evening darkness of defeat at each heel. Poems in the collection won the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award and the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest.

The Night Chorus
Harold Hoefle

McGill-Queen’s University Press

Hoefle’s poems are snapshots of outsiders, youth on buses, violent fathers, aftermaths of breakups – a tricky landscape of tropes to cross. Some ideas feel expected, such as a bruised sunset, or a heart as a bird. There are a few razor- cut endings: snow “like the ghosts of fathers gone” or her eyes “her best and last defence.” That’s offset by singing phrases like “The winning moves you learned from loss.” There’s some humour to find in embracing one’s inner badass by brawling in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.

Conversational poems, such as “In the Name of the Father” and “Manning Up,” transcribe accounts of bravado. Spoiler: in the dramatic monologue of “In the Name of the Father,” the narrator offers to hunt down the driver who struck his acquaintance’s father. In “Manning Up,” a narrator recounts how Sally “womaned up” to shove her parents off a roof. The machismo in the derision for “a world ruined by soft hands” seems anachronistic to write, but this sort of tragedy tourism resonates with a depressive frame of mind.

The poems have a jaded view – a rope of schoolyard children are foreseen as aging into face-jobs and bad hookups. To use Hoefle’s own words: “We’re serious here, all furrowed fields and eyebrows.” To some this will be an intense, enjoyable read. (PP) mRb

Marcela Huerta is the author of Tropico, a collection of poetry and creative nonfiction published by Metatron Press in 2017. Her work has been featured in vallum, Leste, ALPHA, Bad Nudes, Montreal Review of Books, spy kids magazine, CV2, and Lemon Hound.

Pearl Pirie is a writer in rural Quebec who gives workshops on poetry and manuscript editing. She has three collections. Her latest chapbook is Call Down the Walls (Frog Hollow, 2019). She is found on twitter @pesbo and at pearlpirie.com.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

More Reviews

Not All Fun and Games

Not All Fun and Games

Legault and Weststar repeatedly ask, “What does it mean to be a citizen at work in a project-based workplace?”

By Miranda Eastwood

Good Want

Good Want

In a vicious act of rebellion, Domenica Martinello demolishes the delusions of the capitalist pastoral.

By Martin Breul