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Combustion

by Lorri Neilsen Glenn

Halifax poet laureate Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s second collection consists mostly of free-verse lyrics, prose poems, family memoirs, and occasional observations. Reading it, I couldn’t help but think of Canada Council director Robert Sirman’s recent plea for art that isn’t boringly predictable, art that takes risks. This isn’t it.

In a blind taste test, one would be at a loss to identify this work as belonging to Glenn. In a poem about a beach stone, lines such as “Teach me/concentration. Where darkness goes. How//time laughs” sound far too much like the recent work of her mentor, Don McKay (who is also the editor of this collection). But this poem is the exception. Most of the writing is simply generic; in terms of subject matter, diction, syntax, and form, it remains firmly middle of the road. Not terrible, but terribly ordinary. She pays lip service to “mak[ing] the strange familiar” – a cliché that appears twice in the collection – but there is very little strangeness to be found.

This kind of genteel poesy is the modern equivalent of Victorian parlour verse. In fact, several of the poems are written from the perspective of a speaker looking out a window; we also have a “Reading Charles Wright on a Rainy Morning,” a “Birthday in Middle Age,” and an “Over for Dinner” in rapid succession. One poem is entitled “Prosody: Some Advice,” but there’s very little evidence that this is a writer equipped to dispense such a thing. Combustion is precisely what’s missing in the sluggish diesel of this frozen engine block.