Canadian poets’ new collections offer razor-sharp thoughts on existence, danger and carving out a life

The Super-Kamiokande cited in the title of Matthew Tierney’s fourth collection is a neutrino observatory located underground in Japan, and thus a symbol of science’s empirical approach to understanding the world. The Toronto poet, a former physicist himself, alludes to many forms of scientific inquiry throughout, but the apparent certainties they offer are set against the unpredictability and existential anxieties of everyday life. Situated on the “edge of the observable,” these witty, eclectic poems pivot between wry comments on city life (“So little room on the platform,/it’s dystopian,” he writes in a poem about commuting) and references to cosmology, philosophy, literature and pop culture. Tierney juxtaposes playful pondering of high-minded concepts with down-to-earth reflections on his immediate surroundings, and these are what really resonate. As he puts it in one poem, balancing hope and pessimism, “I-don’t-know-who/paced out PEACE & LOVE/in the spring snow on the parking lot./That won’t last. Nevertheless.”

On Second ThoughtBy Priscila UppalMansfield Press, 128 pages, $17

It’s sad to write a posthumous review, especially when the writer in question died young. Priscila Uppal was only 43 when she succumbed to a rare form of cancer last September. The York University professor was a fiction writer and playwright, as well as a prolific poet. Her work has always had a sharp comic edge and a spirited flamboyance, and that’s also true of On Second Thought, her 11th collection, despite the fact that she’s staring down death. “Life, a string of departures,” she writes. “Some dramatic, some pathetic./Nearly all untrackable by Google Earth.” Her humour can be caustic, particularly when unflinchingly describing the ravages of her illness or contemplating the “being/nonbeing tug of war.” Despair, anger and grief surface in these pages, but what stands out most is a fierce appetite for life; as Uppal puts it one poem, “Because my heart has not had its fill.”

CorrespondentBy Dominique Bernier-CormierIcehouse Poetry/Goose Lane Editions, 96 pages, $19.95

ReunionBy Deanna YoungBrick Books, 88 pages, $20

In the opening poem of her atmospheric fourth collection, the Ottawa poet Deanna Young writes of summoning ghosts — ghosts whose stories unfold in many of the pages that follow. It’s unclear if they are figures from an imagined past or from a family history heightened by a Gothic imagination, but their accounts of “myths and buried/deeds” unearth a legacy of domestic violence and abuse in a southwestern Ontario farming community. These are taut, lyric poems packed with haunting images: a young girl crouches at the top of the stairs “while below in the guts of the house/the lions roared”; the same speaker, now a woman, revisits her childhood home and imagines “Trespassers /will be clubbed and dragged into the trees.” Home is not a safe place for many here, but the natural world offers escape; in imagery from nature Young expresses a sense of hard-won redemption and hope for “the saved seeds/of our selves.”
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