When poems are stories

August 15, 2014

Doing reviews whether of books, films or plays is something I find very satisfying probably because if you enjoy a piece of creativity it is a joy to tell others about it in the hope it will encourage them to partake in it. Sort of like sharing a good recipe.

In university, I learned that a good review should have at least one thing positive about whatever you are reviewing and at least one thing negative. Not a bad idea because this makes the reviewer search for an least one thing good about an artistic piece that he or she might have thought was all bad. It also encourages the reviewer to mention at least one thing that needs improvement and this is supposed to help the artist to become an even better one.

The problem is that we go around with these aspects of our characters that we call our emotions. A negative review can make someone stop being creative given the fact that artists often have a very sensitive side to their personalities.

In recent years, I have greatly relaxed bringing out the negative in a review of someone’s work especially if I find the piece of writing mostly positive. It seems a bit obsessive to examine the piece like looking through a magnifying glass to bring out the one flaw and then jump on the writer for not being totally perfect.

The following is a review of a chapbook (a book that is less than 40 pages long and is stapled on the spine):

Gulf Islands Driftwood
December 7, 2005
When poems are stories
by Tanya Lester

Distance From the Locus by Murray Reiss. Salt Spring Island:(m)Other Tongue Press, 2005, 20pp., $20 paper.

The narrative poems in Murray Reiss’ chapbook, Distance From The Locus, have such a stong storytelling ring that I found myself thinking about them as prose when I recalled them later.

These poems are the marks of a mature poet; their twists and turns surprised me and held my interest.

In The Mannequins’ Graveyard, for example, I had settled in to believing the piece was about the poet’s parents mourning the dead they had lost in World War II as a backdrop to the dress shop they owned in Sarnia.

Then the poem moves to the burden the Jewish family’s loss placed on the shoulders of the only son. From these, it goes on to the shop’s employees:
“…They had no husbands
or sons. Once a year,
at the party table, the sales-
girls drank hard liquor
and plotted revenge. They
propped me against
their pillows and dressed
me like their doll.
Tomorrow was their saviour’s birthday; everything
was allowed…”

Reiss is old enough (in a good way) to want to go back and re-examine his youth.

To perhaps, once and for all, settle things.

Although he writes about his father’s familial loss in Poland, Reiss’ poetry reminds us that many death camps still exist today.

References are made to his birthplace of Chemical Valley in Ontario, the African AIDS epidemic and the East Vancouver women who were slaughtered at the pig farm.

His repeated themes strengthened the final impact of the chapbook’s 11 poems for me.

I did not feel depressed by the subject matter because the poet not only writers about the injustices but about the actions he and others take to bring about change.

To read the first posts in this blog, please go to http://www.writingsmall.wordpress.com
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester is available for purchase from the author or by going to the title and author name at amazon.com to read the first few pages and to buy.


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