Saturday, December 02, 2023

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part two : Ellen Chang-Richardson + Beth Follett,

[see the first part of these notes here]

Ottawa ON: The latest from Ottawa-based poet Ellen Chang-Richardson, following a handful of five prior chapbooks authored or co-authored, including their debut, Unlucky Fours (Anstruther Press, 2020) [see my review of such here] and the collaborative holy disorder of being (Gap Riot Press, 2022) [see my review of such here] is concussion, baby (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2023). concussion, baby is a small, sketched assemblage of poems that respond directly to the author’s concussion and aftermath, following a trajectory of poets responding to health crises, whether through works by Pearl Pirie, Elee Kraljii Gardiner’s Trauma Head (Anvil Press, 2018) [see my review of such here], Brian Teare’s The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven (Ahsahta Press, 2015; Nightboat Books, 2022) [see my review of the first edition here] or Christine McNair’s forthcoming non-fiction Toxemia (Book*hug, 2024). These poems are set as moments, narrative pinpoints and jumbles, as though all the mind could hold at the time, striking against illness and rippling alongside recovery. “I text my lover, / mumble-jumbles / the same day I / find a house / mouse dead,” the opening poem, “sweet nothings” reads, “at the bottom / of my recycling bin.” And did you hear that Chang-Richardson’s full-length debut is out come spring with Wolsak and Wynn?


[in] the meteor of a person with too much red in their system
[in] the safety of the shape of someone who sleeps while you are awake
[in] the motes of a carpet  old & dusty & worn
[in] the striations of starburst that burns

[in] the cornea as it shrinks.

Ottawa ON/St. John’s NL: The latest from St. John’s, Newfoundland writer Beth Follett is Learning to Crawl (and other poems) (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2023), her second chapbook with Cameron Anstee’s Apt.9 Press, after A Thinking Woman Sleeps With Monsters (2014) [see my review of such here]. It would appear that Follett, amid novel publication (I would highly recommend her second novel, Instructor: A Novel, published by Breakwater Books in 2021; I reviewed it here), she has quietly released chapbooks every so often, with another, Bone Hinged (Toronto ON: espresso, 2010) [see my review of such here], released a few years prior to landing with Apt. 9; might a full-length poetry debut for Follett be on the horizon at some point? Honestly, there is something quite compelling about these seemingly stand-alone missives quietly put out into the world, and Learning to Crawl (and other poems) is a title that might not have begun as a collection on and around grief, but one that evolved into such, following the death of her partner, Stan Dragland, in 2022. The opening poem, “BETWEEN CUT KNIFE & SWEETGRASS,” sets the tone for the collection in both a straightforward and devastating manner, offering this as the first of the poem’s three stanzas: “I am a cold, cold teacher. / I don’t even. I don’t have a. / Husband. No he died, you can / tell me till you’re blue in the face. / But a fact. It isn’t even. I don’t even. / I don’t have a snack. I’m here, / a cold instructor on a widow odyssey.” Or, as she writes as part of the poem “I ACHE SOMETIMES, FROM LOVING MY DAYS SO MUCH, FROM LOVING”: “I love asking via Fanny Howe what are you looking for when you erase a word / because I took out a decorative word and replaced it plainspokenly.” Set on a foundation of profound loss, Follett’s narrative lyric meditations offer a pause within a moment that accumulate into a slow lean, one that might evolve into the mid-step before into what might follow.


The sun a pale dot in an erstwhile veil. Never trust it. Have a cookie.
Don’t put on boots while the fog horn blows. Know exactly
where and when to put your foot down. Propulsion. Here’s the dust,
the grime of electricity. Teaser the dove. Soon oh soon genius will rise,
the chartered grant of sleep. You might miss it if you leave the house.
Should nails be filed, those of toes that moon
for the darning of socks? Was that the post? Maybe drink some water,
avoid deep thrombosis proceeding from dehydration. Potatoes are sprouting,
ice cream is lost to freezer burn. Fully naked the doorbell
rings. Fully clad for this winter walk, nature calls.

Leave oh leave too soon forever gone.

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