Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Jessica Drake-Thomas reviews A halt, which is empty

Jessica Drake-Thomas was good enough to provide a new review of my spring 2019 poetry title, A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press). Thanks so much! This is actually the third review of the book, after Jonathan Ball reviewed it in the Winnipeg Free Press, and Mary Kasimor reviewed the same at Otoliths. You can see Drake-Thomas' original review here.

You should totally order copies from my publisher. But if you live close, I have a new box of copies, also. As her review reads (in full):

“Listing, and in consequence. Whip-smart. Porcelain, imprints. Restless,/in what seemed. Eternity. A printed image. Transmitting, sparks,” the speaker in “[entirety, the edge of sky, scrapes]” says in rob mclennan’s collection, A halt, which is empty.

Most of the poems in the collection are fragmentary. Literally, they are made up of sentence fragments, listing items and ideas. It’s almost as though the collection is a bunch of still life paintings, all of the pieces adding up into an elegant, well-fitted whole. 

mclennan’s technique is a lesson in mastercraft. Anywhere else, the sentence fragments would be choppy, but the longer line breaks of the pieces maintain the steady rhythm and flow of the poems. Each thing fits together with what comes before it. There’s nothing that distracts or forces the reader out. The reader is drawn along, as though jumping from stone to stone to cross the river. 

“We navigate abandoned rail, the crossing-bridge. A hush of limelight, walking./ Softest, luminescent green. Reflecting, kettle. Diverse objects, spread./Reflecting off your half-tones,” the speaker in “[entirety, the edge of sky, scrapes]” says. “A silence, not imposed but opened. Shorn,/of human speech.”

It reminds me a lot of John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which gives one the sense of things, but not necessarily the cohesive whole. The reader is not quite sure what’s going on all of the time, but gets the gentle implication of it. It’s a really cool effect.  

Overall, the collection weaves together Canadian history, a polydactyl cat named Lemonade, all of the names for snow. I really loved A halt, which is empty. mclennan’s work is original and comforting and lovely, and I highly recommend it. This book is available through Mansfield Press.

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