Monthly Archives: May 2015

This is one of those lovely long sentences that so fascinate me, this time from Gardner, who is one of American literature’s mostly forgotten gems.  I’m parsing out his books, one every couple of years, because I can hardly face the day when there are no more to be read.  The following sentence is a compelling argument for why I feel this way.

“There would come the magical exchange of rings, the lifting of the veil, the kiss, and then Aunt Anna would play the organ maniacally, tromping the pedals, not caring how many of the notes she missed, for Callie (poor Callie whom we all knew well) had died before her time and had been lifted to Glory — and the rice would rain down (Uncle Gordon ducking, trying to snap pictures, shielding the expensive camera he’d bought for taking pictures of the flowers in his garden and the prize turkeys he raised for the Fair) — rice and confetti raining down like seeds out of heaven, numberless as stars or the sands of the seashore, shining like the coins that dropped from Duncan’s pockets — and then the symbolic biting of the cake, the emptying of the fragile glass (Uncle Gordon taking more pictures, frenetic, even George Loomis the eternal bachelor smiling, joyful, quoting scraps of what he said was Latin verse): they would join her in all this, yet could no more help her, support her, defend her than if they were standing on the stern of a ship drawing steadily away from her, and she (in the fine old beaded and embroidered white gown, the veil falling softly from the circlet on her forehead), she, Callie, on a small boat solemn as a catafalque of silver, failing away toward night.”



This is another poem intended for the These, My Streets project. Edinburgh is one of the major streets running North/South through Guelph. It is often used to mark the border of the “downtown” and the “west end”.


I never knew you
until I sat on your porch
and watched pedestrians
press by, oblivious,
all yoga pants
and cell phones,
until I said to a child,
“Nice bike.
Your Dad should paint
the helmet to match,”
and his father said,
“What do I care?
He doesn’t even live with me,”
and I thought then
that the cloying lilac
from across the way
was preferable
to the neighbours,
and I wasn’t disappointed
to leave you behind.

The poems of On Shaving His Face by Shane Neilson are a wonder of agony, of grief wrestling with intellect.

Those of the first section, which looks at the faces of illness, comprise a remarkable variety of verse forms, depicting each diseased face according to its peculiar grief and sorrow, continually enacting the line — “Loss is the exact naming of things” — that seems to lie at the heart of the section. The naming of these faces and their loss is often disconcerting, as the reader is forced to come (less metaphorically than normal) face-to-face with the disfigurements of disease and grief.

The second section, an imagined conference on the concept of Darwinian expressionism, is more emotionally measured but also more intellectually provocative. The variety here is as much in the species of philosophy as in the species of form, and there is a weight behind these pieces that insists on multiple readings, remaining with me far after I closed the book.

In the last section, an exploration of childhood illness, whatever reason had accomplished in the second section seems to ebb away. These poems often break traditional syntax completely, inverting clauses, inserting periods to break sentences awkwardly, approximating a kind of diseased or childish speech, broken and spasmodic. Some of them, like “O Lord of the Seizure Pass” and “See the Marquee”, made me put the book aside to catch my breath. In these poems, feeling, faith, and reason are bound up in desperate conflict, and they are productive of a profound disquiet, like little else I have ever read.

On Shaving Off His Face is an uncomfortable book, which is as great a compliment as I can offer. In it Shane Neilson accomplishes something too seldom found among his contemporaries — a poetry of real consequence.

“Only a page like this remembers,” writes Don Coles in the title poem of A Serious Call, conveying what is perhaps the strongest element of the volume – its capacity to make the page remember.

The poems of A Serious Call are all in their way concerned with this intersection between writing and memory, and though they are too often passive and unobtrusive, too seldom forceful or provocative, their faculty for memorial is remarkable.

The memory that stands at the core of “A Serious Call” – two co-workers in the back room of a bookstore with their boots up on the coffee table, only a space heater for warmth, speaking aloud to each other the lines that must be shared – is only the most elegant of many examples. Here we have the memory of the page being spoken aloud one friend to the other as an inspiration for further writing and further memory and further friendship too, because the remembering of the page is a call that only finds its answer in the response of the friend.

Though my own experience of page and memory and friendship was formed in far different circumstances, I can recognize in Coles’ description an undeniably correlate experience, as powerful and as valuable a thing – this friendship of the remembered page – and as any human experience.

I could wish that A Serious Call was able to find a more vigorous and challenging register, but its pages remember for us things worth remembering, and there is value enough in accomplishing such a purpose.