Thursday, June 10, 2010


I first encountered the poetry of Peter Norman in the delightful ltd. ed. chapbook Wild Clover Honey and the Beehive, which I reviewed for Arc in 2005. The book consists of 28 sonnets written by Peter and Stephen Brockwell, with Peter arguing for the sonnet and Stephen against it. I was particularly struck by the wit and formal ingenuity of Peter's contributions and thought to myself that when he got around to publishing a trade collection, it would be some kind of good.

I later met Peter briefly when I gave a reading in Calgary in 2006 and we corresponded a bit thereafter. In 2008, I published Peter's brilliantly conceived and executed sonnet "Bolshevik Tennis!" in Jailbreaks. After moving back to Halifax last year, I was very glad to learn that Peter and his wife, writer and editor Melanie Little, would be moving to Halifax from Calgary. They're not only supremely talented folks, but great company as well, so we're sad that they'll be leaving for Toronto come fall, so that Melanie can take up her new duties as Senior Editor at Anansi.

But I'm very glad that, five years after first meeting Peter in print, he has published that first book, and it's every bit as good as I figured it would be. Moreover, it's surprisingly different from what I might have imagined. Peter and I share certain attunements; in my copy of At the Gates of the Theme Park, he wrote: "I promise I wrote "Reassurance"--with its "shucked mollusc"--and "What He Found in the Vacuum Bag" in advance of reading T&T!" For those unfamiliar with my book, I use that very phrase in my poem "Heron, False Creek" and the first poem in Track & Trace is "What He Found Growing in the Woods."

But what is on display in AtGotTP, far from being imitative or one-note, is a tremendous show of versatility, as Peter tries on all kinds of different formal approaches and voices. What's most impressive is that he writes very good poems in all those different forms. (He also has a novel forthcoming, which I expect will bear all the marks of his precision, diligence and imagination.) And what's exciting is that I know of several Peter Norman poems every bit as good as the best in this collection that are yet to be collected. You'll have to wait for that, but in the meantime, as it says on the back cover of At the Gates of the Theme Park, step right up!

1 comment:

Jonathan Ball said...

The book surprised me as well, by being more diverse than I expected yet maintaining a consistency of tone. And not including a number of excellent poems that, as you say, are out there waiting to be collected.