By Shvaugn Craig
Poetry is always a complex thing to review, often being harder to judge than other forms of writing. With novels and short stories, the reader can judge them based on how well they fit genre conventions, or whether they brilliantly subverted tropes.
But what makes a good poem is far more personal than that, especially due to the rapid growth in the genre over the last century.
The fact that poetry is so personal is something that’s always appealed to me, but does make it rather hard to review sometimes.
In/Words latest issue is completely anonymous, adding another layer of poetic complexity to the writing and reader’s experience.
Normally when I sit down with a collection of poetry, it’s either a recent publication or a complete collected works by a single author.
The concept of an anonymous poetry issue by multiple authors intrigued me though.
Although poetry competitions are judged blind, poetry itself is still a genre that relies heavily on name recognition. One doesn’t just go buy any book of poetry, you have to do some research in order to find poems and poets who speak to you. What does it mean to experience anonymous poetry?
Not just the act of reading a poem by an unidentified author, but a collection where you are unable to know who wrote what poem, whether there’s multiple poems by the same author, and to have nothing to tie them together but the theme.
In/Words Anonymous is a slim issue, containing just 14 poems and seven illustrations. However, the issue covers a wide variety of topics and voices.
At its heart it is very much a collection rooted within the lives of the anonymous student poets, what it’s like to live in Ottawa, the difficulties of love and online dating, and broader themes.
It’s a complex and deep collection that would be way too long to review in its entirety, but here’s some of my favourites.
The issue opens with “Saint,” bringing forth vivid imagery of an aimless summer in Ottawa, between semesters, losing where you came from but not knowing how to deal with where you are now.
“You didn’t but if you did it would be like this” is one of my favourite poems in the collection. It’s brief, a run-together paragraph with bullet like sentences. It evokes imagery of self-blame for an unrequited love or bad relationship, yet ends on a lingering note of possibility.
“Tea, chai, thé” is grounded, using the metaphor of different types of tea for different types of people and their lives.
Although poetry has grown massively since the development of online poetry communities, coding can often limit poetic forms.
“Last impressions of flora” is a concrete poem, splayed out across the page, using symbols and lines in conjunction with words to convey meaning.
“Untitled” is another favourite, speaking to the anxiety about making art, something relatable and that every artist suffers from at some point.
“Thief, thief, thieves” is a beautiful poem from two voices, an anonymous person and the Rideau river, discussing back and forth the tragic death of Annie Pootoogook. It reads like a lament, celebrating Pootoogook’s life but also taking the time to mourn.
In/Words Anonymous is a strong issue of poetry that evoke beauty but also forces the reader to think and ponder. Like all good poetry, it’s impossible to gain full understanding through one reading.
And even though I’ve already read it a couple of times, I’ll be returning to it again in order to deepen my perspective.