It's National Poetry Month, so every Monday in April I will be reviewing/discussing a book of Canadian poetry.
One of the beautiful things about poetry is its ability to magnify and intensify its subjects, whether people, events, or both. On May 21, 1946, Canadian physicist Louis Slotin died while training his replacement on the Manhattan Project, Alvin Graves, who was also having an affair with Slotin's wife. In Bloom, Michael Lista makes this one day, and all the swirling undercurrents and emotions associated with it, come alive in a series of short poems. Or, maybe, a poetic cycle, because each poem leads into the next in a way that blurs the line between individual pieces on a related topic and one long poem with sections. Whichever way you read it, Bloom is an inventive and confusing and exciting book of poetry.
The collection opens in the morning – the two sections of the book are AM and PM – and the first voice we hear is of Slotin's wife. She is watching her husband leave for work: "You should have seen his overcoat today. My favourite of his. It was long and thick, hand-tailored, either plaid or polka dot, or maybe, fuck it all, flannel." It's a prose-poem and covers all the mundane and ordinary observations of a wife watching her husband leave for work. But don't be fooled, this is not a collection about domesticity; rather, it is a collection about moments, decisions, and observations.
Prose poetry isn't the only style employed, either. Instead, Lista roams around, trying on the hats and styles of many different poets from all sorts of background – each inspiring writing dutifully noted at the bottom of the respective piece. This becomes kind of a game, actually, and seeing names such as Ted Hughes' return again and again, I wondered about the kinds of poems his verse inspired. It's rare to see someone's inspiration displayed baldly, and I adds another layer to each of the poems Lista writes.
In many ways, Bloom feels more like a novella in verse than a straight collection of poetry – it has characters, it has recurring imagery and events, there are several plot lines all intertwined – and it is difficult to discuss just one piece out of context, because as intriguing as the individual poems are when read alone, this is a collection that begs to be read in one go. Although it can get a bit convoluted (the speakers of the poems switch around constantly), Bloom is a rewarding, enjoyable, and at times, salacious read, and one that may challenge your ideas of what poetry can be about.
by Michael Lista
First published in 2010 (cover image shown from House of Anansi Press edition)