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Book Reviews

Change in a Razor-backed Season

by Michael deBeyer

Change in a Razor-backed Season, Fredericton-based poet Michael deBeyer’s second collection, is an interesting sequel to his first book, Rural Night Catalogue. On one hand, this book shares some of the limitations of its predecessor. Its carefully constructed meditations often suffer from an autumnal sameness of tone and emotional register. The poems are quite lyrical, but can also be clinically distant, owing largely to deBeyer’s eschewal of the first-person singular, favouring instead “we” or, even more distancing, “you.”

That said, deBeyer seems to have developed greater control over the tools in his kit, which somewhat paradoxically gives the poems’ phrasing more spontaneity than was evident in Rural Night Catalogue, in which turns of phrase often felt more like poetic novelty than originality. This book is full of arresting phrases and images, such as red houses that “pale, burn in amnesty/of their aging anathema.” I can’t always parse what is literally being said, but the formal integrity of the poems renders such questions petty.

One poem, “The Picaresque,” evidences deBeyer’s formal control, but the poet here ventures out more, emotionally speaking (not coincidentally, it is one of the few first-person pieces in the book). The poem is animated by the tension between its vertical structure and the horizontal chaos that strains at the tightly stitched seams of stanza and line. Frost said that a poem, like an ice cube on a hot stove, rides on its own melting, and “The Picaresque” certainly does that.

DeBeyer controls his poetic line beautifully, studding it with subtle but unpredictable seams of internal rhyme, assonance, and alliteration, and the book as a whole is woven together by a clutch of recurring thematic motifs. Many poets make a botch of things when they try to wax philosophical, but deBeyer possesses the intelligence and technique to get away with it.

As impressive as this book is, there are hints here that deBeyer is capable of more intensity and variety. I’m eager to see if and how his range changes in the seasons to come.