Colin Browne, The Properties

2012, Talonbooks, Vancouver BC

$19.95, 978-0-88922-685-2, 166 pages

reviewed by rob mclennan


who took you in


after the boarding house burned to the curb in Deseronto

upstream in scrub cedar, anticipating betrayal

with the bicycle gone, doors locked and rain setting in

when your lungs ripped like old curtains

with your thought a slurry

as the bus pulled out and the platform went dark

and the lights along the border crashed

after the car struck

with garrisons on every corner

when a shovel was your mother

when your people refused to hide you

when you knocked on the cathedral door

and the tanker ran aground

when the torpedo struck

when they found someone to blame

when the blood resembled yours

when the stick snapped

when you stepped before the throne


if you ask would i join you in the plum forest

sleep beside you, call you comrade

with the scent of leaves at night beneath our heads

and Pan the last god standing

i’d say yes


To only refer to Colin Browne’s new title, The Properties (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2012), as a book of poems would be to misunderstand the book’s complexities, composed in such a deep, expansive regard, the Vancouver writer and filmmaker’s new book is structurally unlike anything else in Canadian writing. True, as the subtitle tells us, this is a book made up of poems, but the book is deep and rich, and mines the length and depth of the long poem in a book-length suite. Perhaps the deception is entirely deliberate, as Browne builds The Properties out of poems and poem-fragments, using collage nearly the way Guy Maddin did for his documentary, My Winnipeg (2007). The near-disconnect might cause a reader, perhaps, to wonder whether Browne uses narrative to tell a story, illustrate a point or tell the truth? In the end, it might not matter. Certainly, Browne composes poems with the eye of a documentary filmmaker, transferring skills from one genre into another, and his poetry collections have become larger and more complex over the years, starting with Abraham (London ON: Brick Books, 1997), and continuing with the Governor-General’s Award shortlisted title Ground Water (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2002) and The Shovel (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2007).


In The Properties, Browne composes poems for friends, such as Peter Quartermain, Robin Blaser and Tom Cone, and produces a wide array of structures, including “The Grenade,” a sequence that echoes the structure and cadence of the title sequence of George Bowering’s Blonds on Bikes (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1997). The title sequence reads very much like a prose poem, built in three-line, extended bursts, anchoring a collection politically astute and very much an exploration of form and thought.



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 (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( 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