One thing that Canadian writers certainly do well is prose poetry, that contradictory hybrid of the poem and the very short-story. Glen Downie’s 2011 collection Local News is a collection of prose poems that explores the everyday world all of us. I was attracted to this volume because of my interest in the genre, not necessarily the subject matter. The book is divided into four sections, each with its own focus. While I did find one particular section interesting, the one where the speaker is essentially pontificating on the decline of the small town, overall this book was a bit of a letdown.
Over the last number of years, I have read a lot of poetry that explores mystic properties of the old sofa in the living-room or the metaphysical character of a kitchen sink, etc; I think this trend of finding the magical in the meaningless has run its course and should be placed on the trash heap of English literature. The sequences “Home”, “Garage”, and “Mall” were filled with this kind of writing and it left a very forced and cold feeling. The poem “Pitch Fork” was a great example of this. Downie muses on the symbolic power that this simple garden tool radiates, invoking images of Satan and Poseidon. As the Freudian maxim goes, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Downie and other authors who are writing this kind of material need to realize that they are not Robert Browning and that picture hanging in the hallway is not their “last Duchess painted on the wall,/ Looking as if she were alive.”
The one redeeming section of the book was his look at the various small shops one would find in any generic dying small town in Canada. The characters that inhabit the shops and town, their ambiance, and how they are a throwback to a simpler time permeate this short sequence. This was the only part of the book that felt fresh, original, and passionate.
I get what Glen Downie was going for with Local News, his words simply fell on deaf and unsympathetic ears that were tired of hearing about how supernatural a mattress is. A for effort, C for execution.