Book Review: Water Strider

The four sections of Water Strider are markedly different from each other, each housing a distinct method of poetic exploration, ranging from the long poem to nostalgic reflections to page and line-challenging spatial pieces. While some readers may find this lack of consistency frustrating, there is an abundance of strong writing that balances well with the natural imagery with metaphor and evolving repetition throughout the work. The first poem, “Perk Test” is undoubtedly the most engaging in the book; it spans a full 20 pages in bursts of two line stanzas, each pair of lines building momentum towards the next, each rotating around notions of landscape, religion and self identity. The pacing of the piece in and exhales rhythmically while allowing each image to double and triple its metaphoric weight with each passing page. There is a beautiful sense of rhythmic breadth in the poem, allowing the reader to extend outward into the sublime landscape of tree filled mountains or water-starved prairies, then back inward to the slightest detail, “the flesh furring the tongue” or “freckled bark of the root stock”. While the first section does an excellent job balancing the narrative “I” and the outer world, the rest of the book is not as successful. The themes of guilt and youth drift throughout the second section, “A/versions of Childhood,” but the poems are a bit self-involved and less anchored to immediate and intriguing physical ties. Hoffman does however regain some of the previous form in the last, title section. Here she explores the page, allowing the words and phrases to land with the lightest of the damselflies, dotting the page and challenging the reader to move beyond the linear left-to-right poetic line. This book demonstrates fearlessness in its willingness to let each poem (or set of poems) dictate their own rules and in letting the form that will best accentuate the content structure the poem. But while Water Strider does not fail by any stretch of the mind, one can’t help but be a bit disappointed after the maturity and craft of “Perk Test,” so much so that the potential of that initial poem is simply too large not to be expectant of the other pieces in the work. (Aaron Tucker)

by Karen Hoffmann 96pgs, $15.95. Frontenac House 1138 Frontenac Avenue SW Calgary, AB, Canada T2T 1B6

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