Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review #35 : Airstream Land Yacht by Ken Babstock

A fine Canadian poet with a great ear. The Airstream Land Yacht is a brand of American motorhome as well as Ken Babstock’s third collection of poetry, shortlisted for the 2006 Governor General's Award. In this vehicle, Meaning and Sense take a back seat while Sound drives. Babstock doesn’t so much mean as sing, packing each poem with a flurry of sonorous details. At times, his images can be utterly exact and startling (“clutching tongs that pincer-gripped a heat-split wiener”), or surreal and humorous, as in this reference to autumn: “…the valley’s trees pulled their embarrassing sports coats on.” The book is divided into four parts: Air, Stream, Land and Yacht. Too often the author whips up an impenetrably dense froth of language; at other times, when he is not quite so intent on revealing the blur inside his head, he can conjure a poem that whispers down and settles inside the reader like a fine, even snowfall, as in ‘The Tall Ships Docked in Kiel Harbour’. There’s little doubt that no one else in Canadian poetry today (except perhaps, George Elliot Clark) has quite the Babstock ear, as he sets the reader whirling with his complex rhythms and rhymes that are never simple but always refreshingly devious: “we finished early to a round / of applause from a bank of thundercloud.”

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