New Theatre, Susan Steudel
2012, Coach House Books, Toronto ON
$17.95, 978-1-55245-255-4, 96 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
East Vancouver poet Susan Steudel’s first trade poetry collection, New Theatre (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2012), revels not only in the stage but in the smallest moment. Her language is stark, sharp and imagistic, cut to the knife-edge, as this fragment from the title poem reveals:
Night. Two bricks on ice.
Morning. A gold jacket.
Noon. A book given; a soft black cover with silver lettering.
Afternoon. Sour walnuts.
Tea. A bridge spanning a river where fish spawn.
Evening. Recorded movements of mule deer.
The hour. Graphite on paper, a blunt glide.
Bath. Giant, silent elk.
The collection opens with a list of Russian words translated into English and written out phonetically, before the book opens deeper into a blended language of Russian culture. In her poems, Steudel uses the influence of dance, sound, biography, cut-ups and gestures to produce striking and unusual poems, writing Marx, Kandinsky, Tolstoy, Mayakovsky, and a long poem on Lenin’s later life. This is a beautiful and complex book, and Steudel is interested in exploring the minutae of maps, composing poems on the theatre of human activity, politics, art, biography and ballet. Her poems remark upon the smallest movements, collecting words that expand from shards and splinters. In one piece, graphically rendered to show off the “cut-up” method of composition favoured by William S. Burroughs, she reveals the accident of meanings and phrases in some of her pieces, and in what can happen when a thought is boiled down to its bare essence. The poem “Sharp-Tranquil,” for example, is but two lines long, writing: “Resistance from the cords of the open parachute. / A steadied view of the world.”
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com