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Book Reviews

Blue Feast

by Shawna Lemay

In a prefatory note to her third full-length collection, Edmonton writer Shawna Lemay says, “The reader who wants these poems is the reader who understands the complicated joy that is entwined with sadness.” In the 120 pages between this bet-hedging caveat and the back-cover copy explaining that Lemay “examines … the prosaic nature of everyday life,” we have the picture of a not-quite-lost soul who “muddle[s] toward” something hopelessly ineffable.

This is not to say that melancholia and the mundane cannot be woven into excellent poems, but Lemay’s craft is too slack-sailed to manage the task. Her diction and rhythms are, true to her concerns, prosaic; her lineation arbitrary (particularly irritating is the stylistic eschewal of commas at the end of lines where commas would otherwise appear); her poems fraught with clichés of both phrase (“rug pulled out from under us”; “once in a blue moon”) and trope (heart, love, moon, etc., ad nauseam); and she cleaves to the unmusical and abstract, deploying countless throwaway nouns with the suffix “ness.”

This is the worst sort of scattered confessional, navel-gazing, and self-absorbed false humility (Lemay’s speaker tells us several times that she desires anonymity). Particularly galling are the myriad vain, self-important reflections on writing; the word “poem” seems to appear as many times as there are poems. That there are so many pages of such nwaveringly unexceptional poetry makes it one of the worst collections I’ve laid eyes on in some time.