jumping in the asylum, Patrick Friesen

2011, Quattro Books, Toronto ON

$16.95, 978-1-926802-57-2, 64 pages

reviewed by rob mclennan


still life without einstein


canít do it canít hold an apple in the light canít look at it

††† long enough to become no time at all

or limes in the spanish bowl green thunder rolling low

††† through quaking aspen and balsam poplar


canít think that green not the green that moves and wonít

††† be still the green that green doesnít know

carve your thumbnail into orange peel and the scent

††† overwhelms colour and abandons shape


canít hold up the sky there is no structure for that but the

††† blue curve that comes to light as thought

the arc of the mindís traffic hands and knees toward what

††† canít be reached passing whatís left behind


and in the window who is that washing the womanís feet

††† his face in shade but not his long hands

he leans into light to kiss her feet but einstein has left and

††† no one paints still life anymore


In his first poetry collection since his lucky thirteenth, Earth's Crude Gravities (Madiera Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2007), Manitoba-turned-Vancouver Island poet Patrick Friesenís jumping in the asylum (Toronto ON: Quattro Books, 2011) is a collection of less than sixty pages of material, and structurally a variation on much of the work heís been doing since St. Mary at Main (Winnipeg MB: The Musesí Company, 1998). There was something in both form and content that Friesen accomplished in St. Mary at Main, a collection I still consider his finest, that broke away from everything he had accomplished previously, including A Broken Bowl (London ON: Brick Books, 1997), which was short-listed for the Governor Generalís Award for Poetry, and Blasphemer's Wheel: Selected and New Poems (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1994), which won the Manitoba Book Award. Over the past decade and a half, it would seem, Friesen has settled into being a poet of sentences, as the poems in this collection are predominantly constructed in stanzas of two-line sentence-phrases, echoing (as the back cover tells us) jazz riffs.


It's been interesting to see his slow shift from the overtly-Mennonite content poems of his earlier works, moving more subtle and more meditative into his post-Winnipeg content, but considering how breathtaking his structural shift when he set to leave Manitoba in St. Mary at Main, the poems in this collection read as echoes of previous material. There are some lovely gems in jumping in the asylum, including ďand she says why speak of it,Ē or ďone summer night at la bodega,Ē but it feels as though his writing has yet to discover that next chapter. Plateaus and leaps, plateaus and leaps, as any artist knows, and not necessarily a slow accumulation, and even Don McKayís writing had begun to plateau a bit until he published his Deactivated West 100 (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2005). Phil Hall once said that every poet needs a book that fails, and while this certainly isnít failure, this certainly feels like a collection Friesen already knew how to write. I appreciate the stagger of the line, the rhythmic sweep and swagger, but know he is more than capable in making that next leap. I want to see whatís next.




Born in Ottawa, Canadaís 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