A simultaneously gorgeous and gut-wrenching tribute to a lost companion.

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DEAR RAY

A LOVE POEM FOR RAYMOND SOUSTER

A sharp outpouring of grief in free verse.

Dunlop is a Canadian poet, novelist, and singer/songwriter based in Toronto. In this single, long poem, she reflects on the passing of fellow poet Raymond Souster, the precious time that they spent together during the last decade of his life, and the deceased poet’s painful absence, which is, paradoxically, a kind of presence. The book’s open structure, including sporadic empty spaces, allows Dunlop to trace the nonlinear, fragmented paths of mourning. As she asserts in her customarily plain yet evocative language: “Your many last words / are memory maps.” Addressing Ray directly, she shows how his verbal legacy remains a part of her life in the form of reclaimed speech: “ ‘Carry On Canada’ / I heard myself say today, / your phrase, your voice / giving you back to me.” Likewise, visual reminders can catch her off guard, as seen in the breathless quality conveyed by these short lines: “Today it was / an old man / bundled against / the cold March wind / in his wheelchair / being pushed / across the intersection / that took me by the throat / as I sat safely / inside the hard shell / of my car.” Everyone has emotional defense mechanisms, Dunlop implies, and no one is immune from sorrow. She’s able to balance these universal themes with elements that are particular to her lived experience, as in how she refers to Ray as “little sparrow” or “tender sparrow” throughout the text. At the end of the poem, she suggests that writing is not just a way to memorialize, but also an act of survival. Dunlop envisions her own mortality (“the big silence / will swallow me whole”) as a way to reunite with Ray in some form. Anyone who’s watched a loved one fade away will be able to connect with this accessible, plainspoken poetry.

A simultaneously gorgeous and gut-wrenching tribute to a lost companion.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9938210-2-8

Page Count: 87

Publisher: Contact Press Toronto

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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