The Yellowknifer, Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review by John Mutford

Zachariah Wells, the poet behind the fantastic Unsettled, a collection of poems inspired by his cargo-handling days in Iqaluit, has returned with Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets.

This latest project, however, contains none of Wells' own work. As an anthology featuring many of Canada's best known poets (ex. Leonard Cohen and Charles G.D. Roberts) alongside lesser recognized poets (ex. George Whipple and Evie Christie), the only regrettable omission is from Wells himself, who has certainly earned his rank amongst these poets but seems to have succumbed to a professional humility and did not include a sonnet of his own. Not that Wells doesn't leave his mark.

From a thorough introduction that discusses the relevance of the sonnet despite the liberties that have been taken with its form, to the notes found at the back of the book, there are many moments to pause and reflect on the poems, aided by Wells' insight.

However, his best skill as an anthologist was the arrangement. Most often such collections are arranged alphabetically or chronologically but Wells has made it a work of art. Finding common themes and images between poems and placing them adjacent to one another created chains and discourses that wouldn't have existed in an arbitrary arrangement. Poems with rope imagery, for instance, are found together, encouraging meditation on its significance as a symbol. Maybe too many focused on the sonnet as a theme, but this may have been Wells' enthusiasm for the form-and that enthusiasm became infectious.
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