Book Review: BirchSplitBark

A poetry book about the canoe — how Canadian can you get? Guichon then adds a nuclear family into the mix and explores how each family member relates to the fragile craft.

BirchSplitBark is divided into four chapters: John, Isabelle, Bobby and Lily. John is a businessman, absent father and unfaithful husband. Isabelle is a pining wife, bored of endless meal prep and familial support. Bobby is the gay son and constant disappointment to dad. And Lily is fumbling through awkward, teenage sexuality. Sounds a little clichéd and not particularly Canadian either (think a more northerly American Beauty), except where Guichon infuses canoe references. John uses his canoe to wine and dine illicit ladies. Lily, paddling her canoe, is seduced by summer boys in speedboats. The actual substance of these poems fails to engage me, even as someone who canoes extensively. I searched out a fitting description of paddling but, if it’s in BirchSplitBark, it’s been waterlogged with bland characters who feel no unique affinity with the canoe.

For a debut book of poetry, Guichon is adventurous, dipping into haikus, found, shaped and sound poetry. And her writing style is accomplished, especially when she explores a single character, such as John: “while the canoe hibernates in storage/ he totals the weight of years spent in/ paper labour.” BirchSplitBark pinpoints the intersections between family, survival and the canoe, but Guichon misses the mark by using stock characters with typical problems. (Laura Trethewey)

Diane Guichon, $16.95, 100 pgs, Nightwood Editions, 773 Cascade Crescent, Gibsons, BC, V0N 1V9

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