It may be halfway through summer, but it’s not too late to enjoy the Spring 2017 issue of Canadian literary journal The Fiddlehead. This issue holds timeless treasures, including the winners and honorable mentions of the Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem and the Short Fiction Prize.
Dominique Bernier-Cornier was name winner of the Ralph Gustafson Prize and opens the issue. I was lured in immediately, greeted with:
I throw off my leopard hood
and moonlight streaks my copper
wig. My father drinks a 3 a.m. cup of expresso
in his bathrobe and asks me who I am.
Shania Twain in “That Don’t Impress Me
Different fabrics are explored: the hood (which the poet reveals he does indeed own in an interview on the magazine’s website), the fabric of time, the “silk / ribbons on a bonnet” the speaker dons, echoing an ancestor who dressed as a woman to escape jail in the 1700s. Bernier-Cornier expertly ties all the fabrics together in a solid poem worthy of winning status.
Honorable mentions—Tammy Armstrong with “Blessing the Boats” and Kim Trainor with “Bluegrass”—follow. Armstrong starkly describes the coast and draws chills at the images of “woods emptied of men [ . . . ] no more late night fires across uncut fields” before moving on to the boat blessing. Trainor conjures haunting images that enchant:
I wake with the moon.
You have sent me a telegram.
The water is clay. Teal. Chalk. Bruised
pink as the petals rot.
I read all three placing poems over and over, relishing each rich image.
Short Fiction Prize winner Kate Finegan with “Blue’s Too Bright” begins as strongly as the poetry winner. “Have you noticed the birds are shitting more lately?” Joanne’s mother asks, and it’s immediately hard to dislike her mother who’s embroiled in a battle with the birds “Shitting all over my cabbages! Bright blue shit all over my cabbages!” While Joanne’s there to help, her mother passes away and the war against the birds shifts to a clash against greedy relatives looking for the deed to family land. Finegan takes a familiar premise—unexpected death, family vultures sweeping in—and livens it up with Joanne’s mother’s spunky and infectious attitude, her sense of humor, and, of course, blue bird shit.
After the Short Fiction Prize honorable mentions—“Will There Be Clowns?” by Steven Benstead and “The Foundation” by Ann Cavlovic—is a feature on Norman Dubie, introduced by Editor Ross Leckie. The first of the 23-poem selection is “Dementia,” one that resonated with me. I could see my grandma in the scattered sentences, part memory, part fantasy.
In the intro, Leckie describes Dubie’s poetry as slippery and simple like ice. As with ice, there is a dark mystery that lurks below the surface, which reached out at me in several poems. “The Hartford VA: August 4, 1967” begins with a scene that could be viewed innocently: a red squirrel attacking a kite. Instead, it foreshadows a sudden turn, red returning “vomited / blood across Mallet’s white nylons.” In some poems, the darkness is introduced immediately like in “Desiccated Deer Akimbo in Barbed Wire,” a short piece that paints the macabre scene. “Of Art & Memory” features a funeral director who mistakes the speaker’s grandmother for “her younger sister / whom he adored in grammar school – sixty-three / years ago,” shaping the grandmother’s face to mirror her sister’s. Later the grandmother’s true features are seen in a deer that steps out in front of the speaker’s father’s car: “the eyes / and a gold smoke or light / scrawled in large ellipses at her mouth and nostrils.” The poem is interesting enough in its dark premise, the ending bringing it all together for satisfying closure. Each of Dubie’s poems in this selection ring clear, character and setting strong points that especially grabbed me.
The Spring 2017 issue of The Fiddlehead closes with even more poetry and fiction, as well as a set of book reviews. Whether lured in by the promise of talented writing in the contest results, the Norman Dubie feature, or the promise of compelling Canadian writing expected from this literary journal, readers are sure to leave satisfied.