Writings / Reviews: George Elliott Clarke

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The Clockmaker
by Thomas Chandler Haliburton
Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2014
312 pp, $18

Passion Seeds
by Suzanne Ondrus
New London, CT: Little Red Tree Publishing, 2014
150 pp, $21

Summertime Swamp-Love
by Patricia Young
Windsor, ON: Palimpsest Press, 2014
80 pp, $19

Remember Who You Are: Poems from Petpeswick
by Philip K. Thompson
Goat Rock Press, 2013
$15

Edited superbly by Acadia University Professor Emeritus Richard A. Davies, The Clockmaker, by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865). The Nova Scotian-born journalist, judge, essayist, humorist, historian, legislator, and Tory curmudgeon, is a must-read.

Ranked with Charles Dickens and Mark Twain in his lifetime, Haliburton was a transatlantic bestseller whose political philosophy and economics was embedded in comic sketches.

First published by Joseph Howe in 1835-36, The Clockmaker uses the figure of an itinerant, Yankee clock pedlar—Sam Slick—to poke fun at “Bluenoses” for failing to demonstrate business acumen.

Haliburton might be the intellectual sire of “Red Toryism.” But he’s also racist and sexist—without apology. Caveat emptor….

Passion Seeds is the debut collection of Suzanne Ondrus, an American poet, who has travelled in Africa and Europe and is fluent in English, French, Italian, and German. Her manuscript won the Vernice Quebodeaux “Pathways” Poetry Prize.

Ondrus inks poems about the love between a black, African man and a white woman, possibly American. Her style is visceral: “Blackberry babies was the name / used to frame coitus’ illegal results / … as if only blacks would grab / for something so ripe.”

But there’s delicacy too: “Together we breathe / jasmine vines, honey dew, / black pearls, ochre snow / and thousands of little tendrils / fluttering.”

In her twelfth collection, Summertime Swamp-Love , B.C. poet Patricia Young follows Peggy Atwood in writing up animals, but is un-Atwood-like in deciding to cover their sex practices—from their own perspective. The result is quirky and witty.

So the male angler fish, mating with the female, loses all of itself but the testes. Young imagines the male swooning, “I was nothing before you. / I am nothing after. / if ever there was devotion, / it is mine: / I dissolve, / I atrophy, I never let go.”

Philip K. Thompson is a Nova Scotian poet of coastal locales. He’s been kind enough to review my works; I’m honest enough to say I’ve sometimes dismissed his opinions….

In looking at his Remember Who You Are: Poems from Petpeswick, I’m impressed by Thompson’s stripped-down simplicity: “when I paddle my kayak / Only the future matters.” Behind is “The fading irrelevance / of my gentle wake.”

I’m reminded of Richard Brautigan’s poems. Truthful, Unaffected.

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