Karen Solie’s poems have a voice that is a potent amalgam of emotions and perspectives. In that voice is the spiritual grit and respect for the natural world of someone raised on a farm. In it, too, is the cynical resilience of someone who has chosen to be an urban dweller, and who manages to celebrate what is harsh and quirky about that environment. It’s all tempered with revelatory sensitivity and tenderness, often prompted by chance collisions of those natural and less natural worlds. “Migration” – movingly dedicated to her aunt when Solie read it at the Griffin Poetry Prize readings in Toronto this spring – is a standout.
P.K. Page took on the stylistically challenging formal glosa form for each poem in Coal and Roses, which was to become her last poetry collection before her death in January, 2010 at the age of 93. As described at the opening of the book:
The glosa form opens with a quatrain, borrowed from another poet, that is then followed by four ten-line stanzas terminating with the lines of the initial passage in consecutive order. The sixth and ninth lines rhyme with the borrowed tenth. Glosas were popular in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries among poets attached to the Spanish court.
That Page would tackle such a labyrinthine approach to poetic expression when others would be long retired from their chosen career or metier attests to her abiding intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for her craft. That she could apply a form that perhaps sounds fusty and overly complex to fresh subject matter, in varied and lively styles, exploring a range of traditions, is revelatory. That she could take as her inspirations and starting points such diverse poetic voices as Margaret Cavendish, Ted Hughes, Don McKay, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Jorge Luis Borges, Dionne Brand, Anna Akhmatova and more is breathtaking, offering a vibrant primer for those wishing to expand their poetic education and horizons. That this collection could go on to share the Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist with Kate Hall, a young poet who was once mentored by Page, is a gorgeously bittersweet tribute to a respected literary grande dame.
The stunning beautiful Coal and Roses by P.K. Page is a gift to all poetry lovers, a testament to the life of an extraordinary and generous artist, and an essential literary work.
Plucky, precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce is the new Nancy Drew. Her inspiring accomplishments aside, the focus on Nancy’s sleuthing prowess left little for character development and made her pretty unassailably a CSI/Detective Barbie. By contrast, Flavia has all Nancy’s investigative chops and some, and combines them with foibles, mischief, intensity and self-deprecation that skew her charmingly into Ellen Page terrain – well, a post World War II, English Ellen Page. She’s a hoot, and you’d want to hang out with her … if, in her independent fashion, she didn’t rebuff you first for some “me time” in her chemistry lab to work on some new poisons or poison antidotes.
Since author Alan Bradley has already published a second installment of Flavia’s adventures (The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag), she obviously survives the scrapes in her first crime solving foray. That doesn’t mean the story is predictable, nor that it doesn’t have its genuinely suspenseful and surprising moments and twists. The supporting cast of characters is colourful, and the dollops of insight into chemistry and philately are intriguing without slowing down plot momentum. There is also an undercurrent of familial angst, tension and depression in the de Luce household that feels authentic because it’s comparatively understated. Bradley would do well to mine that aspect of Flavia’s story in future installments, and he’d be well on the way to crafting a truly unforgettable and fully dimensional young heroine.