Leon Rooke's latest collection of poems concerns itself with an irrepressible heroine, adopting a variety of distinctive perspectives on her life, her loves and her losses.
An energetic and prolific storyteller, Leon Rooke's writing is characterized by inventive language, experimental form and an extreme range of characters with distinctive voices. He has written a number of plays for radio and stage and produced numerous collections of short stories. It is his novels, however, that have received the most critical acclaim. Fat Woman (1980) was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and won the Paperback Novel of the Year Award. Shakespeare's Dog won the Governor General's Award in 1983. As a play, Shakespeare's Dog has toured as far afield as Barcelona and Edinburgh. A Good Baby was made into a feature film. Rooke founded the Eden Mills Writers' Festival in 1989. In 2007, Rooke was made a member of the Order of Canada. Other awards include the Canada/Australia prize, the W O Mitchell Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature and two ReLits (for short fiction and poetry). In 2012, he was the winner of the Gloria Vanderbilt Carter V Cooper Fiction Award. Recently, Rooke's works The Fall of Gravity and Shakespeare's Dog were produced in new editions for France and Italy, two countries where his work has been greatly admired.
?To lose the one we love, through illness – how can we bear this? We can't and we must. This is the wilderness, the wildness, of these poems; grief scours us and sorts through us; incomprehension and painful seeing. Few books are as brave as this one, with its ?black hope?. Leon Rooke has always been language-mad for the world, in all its complicated grace. This book thrashes against loss and, in doing so, names a deep tenderness.?- Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces
?The April Poems reveals the joy of loving – and the grief of losing – a ?mature damsel? who travelled ?with a shotgun under her dress? and boasted ?Ideal cleavage too?. These poems and prose poems merge elegaic lament and rollicking lyricism to express the transcendent spirit of committed, coupled, household, marital love and the hurtful truth that is at ?death do us part?. Supremely gifted in his art, Leon Rooke presents April and her husband Sam as exemplars of the casual, comic surrealism of real, everyday, domestic life. In this verse narrative that reads like a Federico Fellini film scripted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, chuckles catch in the throat like sobs. Zany episodes contrast beautifully with sorrowful reflections: The April Poems underscores the madcap stress and exhuberance of marriage as well as the pitiful and maddening sadness that occurs when one of the couple passes away. It is a superb, poignant, and memorably humorous work, where April can declare her desire ?to go at love / Like we were tractors clearing a road.??- George Elliott Clarke, author of Execution Poems
?Leon Rooke has long been recognized as a great fiction writer, a master of the short story, a prestidigitator of tone, drama and humour. Fortunately, he brings these gifts to bear in his poetry, as well. As poet, Rooke is an outsider in the best sense – a mad scientist, a breeder of wily hybrids – immune to trends. In Rooke's lines, there are shades of Pinter, Pasternak and Baudelaire. Read this book carefully, for it contains poems that can show us how to lose ourselves, and to recognize love, in any age.?- Paul Vermeersch, author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand
?These poems trace the anatomy of a love story through all its permutations – from outrageous humour, to erotic confrontation, to profound connection, and loss. No one can break the syntax of the poetic line, of love and of the heart like Leon Rooke. Such a poetic tintinnabulation! Oh glorious April!?- Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape and a House in Marseille
`Rooke takes the everyday happenings of a domestic relationship and makes them wonderful, not by elevating or magnifying them, but by insisting on them just as they are -- squalid and splendid, banal and profound, playful and earnest'- Jeremy Luke Hill, From Word to Word
In Leon Rooke's imaginative, surreal world, it is always April.
In The April Poems, Leon Rooke bridges the gap between poetry and fiction with an array of poems that, while wildly experimental at times, form an overarching narrative about a woman named April.
The collection is a kind of fictional biography told through individual poems, a conceit worthy of housing a book's worth of experimentation. It provides a structure in which Rooke's blend of unique voices and magical realism can shine while keeping the larger perspective of the book in focus.
As the word "experimentation" implies, not all of Rooke's efforts succeed. There are some longer works that veer a bit too far off the main path. Likewise, some of the short, one-note poems, such as "April's Continuation of the James Tate Poem `Lewis and Clark Overheard in Conversation'" (a clever play on the original poem, which, as with Rooke's continuation, consists solely of the line "then we'll get us some wine and spare ribs"), may or may not catch a reader's fancy.
That said, all of the far-ranging styles and techniques make the moments that hit home that much more effective, as in the glimpse into domestic life provided in "April's Bad Husband Day": "April and the children looking / chills raking the spine / knowing they knew him / from somewhere"
In "April's Clunker Car," an encounter with a tow-truck driver who confesses to having wished he'd married April years before gives rise to thoughts of what might have been: "Yup, well, here you go, he said, / pulling into a hustling hub, / next time you're in trouble / breathe deeply and I'll be on your bumper / like a hurricane."
Unlikely as it is that every one of Rooke's poems will hit the mark for individual readers, it's just as unlikely that readers will not be amused, or moved, by any of them. Rooke is playful, but skilled enough to pull off most of what he attempts.
Rooke is known for experimentation, and for the distinct voices of his characters. He has received acclaim for many of his works, particularly his novel Shakespeare's Dog, which has also been staged as a play. Rooke has been invested into the Order of Canada, and has received many other awards and prizes, including the Gloria Vanderbilt Carter V. Cooper Fiction Award in 2012.
The April Poems is a novel (pun intended) way of telling a story--episodic, disjointed at times, full of imagery and surrealism. It is a grand experiment, one that readers are encouraged to assist in conducting, and one that many will find successful.- Peter Dabbene, ForeWord Reviews
`Leon Rooke's The April Poems are a bit like walking into a batting practice with the home-run champ. Leon Rooke's free verse musings on April explode off of the bat with the confidence of someone who always knows where the sweet spot lays. This guy is used to knocking them out of the park.'- Michael Dennis, From Word to Word
`One of the most touching aspects of this collection is that the poems in April's voice seem altogether quieter, almost wistful, and are distinct from the viewpoints of those (including Sam) who would mythologize her, or whose grandiose descriptions belie the depth of her soul. Her vulnerability, ultimately more endearing than any exploit, is revealed.... Even seen through multiple viewpoints, it's clear that April is more than the sum of these parts, as is this collage-like collection. Like that long and happy marriage, April is here to stay.'- Rhonda Batchelor, Arc Poetry Magazine
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