We awaken to distant thunder,/the sound of rain in the black walnut – James Deahl*
Three cheers and a thunderous applause for Sarnia’s literary couple James Deahl and Norma West Linder who continue to travel and entertain readers and audiences with their prolific work.
James Deahl and Norma West Linder are prolific award-winning Canadian writers who call Sarnia, Ontario, Canada their home. Both launched new work on September 9, 2019.
Last month, their double book launch officially introduced Travelling The Lost Highway, Deahl’s 164-page poetry collection inspired by some of the secluded Canadian and American roads Deahl and Linder travelled as a couple plus Perk’s First Love– A 1984 Drum Corps Summer, Linder’s fictional novel aimed at the youth or young adult market.
Both shared their work at the literary celebration which also included readings by four contributors to Tamaracks and Lummox anthologies. Guest readers were Joseph A. Farina, Ryan Gibbs, David Haskins, and Rhonda Melanson.
The event was held on September 9, 2019 in the Famous Room of John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
A time to celebrate local and out-of-town talent.
Below is my (unbiased) review for each recently launched book:
Travelling The Lost Highway (Guernica Editions 2019)
by James Deahl
Disclosure: As one of five writer friends who read the first draft of this manuscript, I was impressed by Deahl’s revisions and the final product edited by Michael Mirolla and published by Guernica Editions. My comments are based on having just read this published version for the first time.
Reading James Deahl’s latest poetry collection Travelling The Lost Highway is like packing an overnight bag and driving through a nostalgic and dream-like scene where “a sudden frost/turns the goldenrod into a crowd/of white-haired old gentlemen.” Even the front cover’s depiction of an old rusty vehicle parked in an abandoned field symbolically steers the reader down forgotten roads where tall grass weaves a recurring ‘nature’ motif while a single headlight, round as the moon or as bright as a star, shines and sheds light on not only an earlier era but also on today’s current affairs.
Deahl’s obsession with infusing each poem with either a moment by moment weather forecast or a setting depicting re-birth or decay reinforces the daily collision between the natural world and urban sprawl. For example, “Against the grey/of a November sky/a structural steelworker/hangs in a flame of girders/suspended twenty stories/above Montreal.” (p. 26)
I especially enjoyed the way these 93 poems written between 2011 and 2018 were grouped into eight sections as though they were ‘places of interest’ in his poetic journey. Consider the tell-tale introductory headlines: ‘The Town and the City’, ‘Between the Roaring Stars’ or ‘Rain In The Black Walnut’. Especially moving are his “Poems of Lament and Celebration” where he pays tribute to some of his favourite poetic pioneers including Al Purdy and Raymond Souster.
With my distaste for too much history and American (or even Canadian) politics, I’m glad that Deahl keeps his historical and political themed poems for this book to a minimum. However, a few times, this poet slips into a roadside trench or cemetery to not only dwell upon war and death but to repeat or restate certain phrases or thoughts like an echo. For example, referring to the St. Clair River at the Canada/U.S. border: “it’s a river I’ll never cross again” (p. 149) or his own predicament “Like Syrian families/recently resettled/I, too, am exiled” (p. 134) and “I will see my parents’ graves/and the home where they raised me/never again.” (p. 144)
Not all the poems are dark. His section of six love poems dedicated to his wife Norma (who is also an established writer) is especially illuminating. “The sky’s a cathedral of light, a place/where only the impossible happens.” (p. 114)
For me, the strongest poems are rich in metaphors, personifications, and symbols. Deahl delivers some powerful and memorable lines. For example, in his title poem “The Lost Highway” he writes: “Even though the filling station’s been closed,/the asters still wave their purple Hello” (p. 61) and later in the narrative “a dog lies in the dust/near a tumbledown barn, between her paws/a ball of moonlight as broad as the sea.” (p. 61) My favourite poem is “Old Woman Bay”, a personification of a landmark where he writes: “To live without seeing herself/she became a face on a cliff,/lake water bathing her stone feet”. (p. 127)
For those who enjoy traditional or more accessible poetry aimed at a working-class audience, Deahl is not only prolific but a master poet with a large following. His poems scan well and are worth reading more than once. His writing style is precise, often conforming to a particular syllable line count and/or stanza length honed by his extensive time spent creating at his desk. As the back cover emphasizes, “he is currently the author and editor of forty literary titles including two other Guernica Editions titles.”
Overall, Travelling The Lost Highway includes some of the finest selected and new poems that Deahl has written in the last decade. I understand he is already working on his next book.
Perk’s First Love – A 1984 Drum Corps Summer
(Hidden Brook Press 2018)
By Norma West Linder
‘This was his last summer to be part of something big, part of something that had a chance of being judged best in the world.’
With the precision of a musical marching ensemble, Canadian author Norma West Linder leads her four main characters through the trepidation and exhilaration of performing in a drum corps for the first (or last) season, the complexities of making tough decisions in life and love, and the intensity of teenage desire and angst: ‘I’ve missed you.’ ‘I hate you…I wish I were dead’.
Meet Kirby (Perk) Perkins, a blue-eyed horn-player whose whole teen years had ‘centered on the thrill of being part of the corps’, and Kelly (Kid) Donahue, his blonde-haired girlfriend who complains ‘Drum corps, drum corps, drum corps! Was there no escape from it!’.
Mix in the oscillating emotions of Noel (Chops) Racine, a top snare drummer with rimless ‘wise-old-owl’ glasses and a floppy brown cap, and his love interest Carla Taylor, a 17-year-old slim dark haired girl who ‘thought about the death of her summer dreams and felt a tightness in her throat that made it hard to breathe’. The escalating drama (accentuating different points of view) pushes each character to the edge.
Set in modern times with a nostalgic flashback to the summer of 1984, the unfolding narrative drums along from one conflict to another as the reader is rhythmically carried to a non-cellphone-non-internet era where words such as ‘chicks’, ‘male chauvinist pigs’, ‘flaked out’ and ‘smashed’ are the norm.
A romance novel with snappy sentences and easy-to-read chapters, Perk’s First Love – A 1984 Drum Corps Summer showcases the innocence of young minds and the dreaminess of youth’s first attraction where long hair gleams ‘like liquid honey’ and lips press ‘against his shining horn, playing notes as clear as…’
… and a lasting crescendo of applause that reverberates ‘with the echo of a thousand drumbeats.’
MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR MORE READINGS
Meet James Deahl and Norma West Linder later this month as they travel to Toronto for the 12th Tamaracks celebration to be held from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. at the Annette Street Branch of the Toronto Public Library, 145 Annette Street. Additional readers include Laurence Hutchman (author of The House of Shipping Time (Black Moss Press 2019)), Eva Kolacz (author of Whatever We Are (Hidden Brook Press 2019)) plus Tamaracks contributors Steven McCabe and Gianna Patriarca. Open to the public. Admission is free.
Deahl and Linder will also be attending several National Poetry Month readings next year in Toronto, Hamilton, and Sarnia including an event booked for Thursday, April 30, 2020 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Main Street Public Library (137 Main Street) in Toronto.
Additional dates and times (as they become available) will be posted on the 2020 event section of this blog.
Additional information about Deahl and three of his books appears on the Guernica Editions website.
His book will also be officially launched in Toronto at Guernica’s Toronto October Launch to be held October 27, 2019 starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Supermarket Restaurant and Bar, 268 Augusta Avenue.