Amanda Lamarche, The Clichéist

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On a recent trip to the big city, I picked up a copy of Amanda Lamarche’s The Clichéist. It was a tough call since I also had in my hands Lorna Crozier’s new selected poems as well as John Newlove’s. I haven’t read much Newlove and, as a Canadian poet writing poetry in Canada, I realise this alone is grounds for some form of literary punishment. That being said, I took the dive.

I first read Lamarche’s work in Breathing Fire 2, the anthology of new Canadian poets edited by Patrick Lane. I enjoyed what I had read and wanted to explore it further. The Clichéist is composed of four sections entitled: Book of Fears, Tracks from the Mouth, A Tree Falls in the Woods, and the title section. In general the take a variety of everyday occurances or phrases and view them under a fresh light. In the Book of Fears, for example, we have such titles as “Fears of Doorknobs”, “Fear of Dying to the Wrong Song”, and “Fear of Poplars”. My favourite poems form this section happen to be “Fear of Houses Built on Corners” and “Fear of Poplars”, both with a strong relfective element that carries further throughout the book.

A Tree Falls in the Woods has a wonderful way of exploring memory and how the present mind grapples with the past. The language here is much more direct, but not overtly “poetic”. This section reminded me somewhat of Fred Wah’s work in that there is a seemingly simple style employed to deal with a subject of great scope (i.e.: one’s reflection on childhood or their own past). This is perhaps my favourite section of the book, with its disjointed narrative and curious considerations.

The poems in this collection show a breadth of discovery and a voice that Lamarche is developing carefully and competently. The final section of the book takes a different structural form than the rest, using long spaces/breaks as punctuation and effect. Each title here provides a cliché (e.g.: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”, “It Takes One to Know One”) and provides a fresh spin on each. Some of these are rather delightful, but at times the direction in which the author takes the cliché is itself a something less than unexpected (I’m thinking in particular of “A Face Only a Mother Could Love” and “More Sinned Against than Sinning”). In all, however, this section of the book is well written and reflects a strong intelligence in the poet.

I enjoyed this collection very much and look forward to reading more my Amanda Lamarche. It also opened my eyes to Nightwood Editions, the same publisher, infact, that released George Murray’s new volume The Rush to Here.

Amanda Lamarche’s The Clichéist, a recommended read.

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