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Book Reviews

I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel

by Jennifer LoveGrove

Toronto poet Jennifer LoveGrove’s second collection is an example of what seems to be a growing subgenre of Canadian poetry: the contemporary dystopia. The first and last poems of this book feature hurricanes, and an “imminent sense of calamity” characterizes much, if not most, of the verse in between.

There are echoes in LoveGrove’s tropes of chaos and containment (one sojourning speaker says wryly that she is “from Canada, land of seatbelts and lifejackets”) of Eliot’s Waste Land, of shoring fragments against one’s ruin. Another speaker builds “joists” and “a solid, level floor” out of the detritus she gathers from a city street. The poems are loaded with political commentary on war, environmental degradation, mass media, and plastic surgery. To her credit, LoveGrove is mostly able to keep politics from driving her poems into the province of cant. She does this by approaching her subjects with an obliquely twisted imaginative vision.

Leitmotifs of dreams and nightmares structure the book and provide a wild swirl of oneiric imagery. This chaotic splurge is most effective when the poet reins it in with strong, crisp diction, as in a sonically rich description of killing a chicken – “The crunch and squelch/of skull and brain. Feathers/cling to my rock/like guilt, like shame” – full of hard-bitten alliterative “k” sounds and the ringing assonantal rhyme of “brain” and “shame.”

LoveGrove often displays such mastery, but her line is also prone to lapses into looseness, leaving surreal imagery on its own with little lingual assistance. A longer poem about a high school prom, in particular, reads more like a prose story that needs fleshing out than like a verse narrative. The book’s second section, a suite called “The Beauty Killer Poems”– inspired by the true story of a quack plastic surgeon in Guadalajara, Mexico – contains the most focused and disturbing work in the collection, though there are a handful of other strong poems (such as the tight free-verse sonnet “The Skater,” the chillingly ironic “The Fisherman,” and a marvelously unsentimental address to a week-old baby) scattered throughout the book.