Poetry review of works by Steven Heighton, Canisia Lubrin, Arleen Paré, Yusuf Saadi and Terence Young

by Mary MacDonald


This year, the Whistler Writers Festival hosts five poets: Steven Heighton (Selected Poems 1983-2020), Canisia Lubrin (The Dyzgraphxst), Arleen Paré (First), Yusuf Saadi (Pluviophile), and Terence Young (Smithereens).

Heighton is a master craftsman, equally at ease in fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature. As a poet, his voice is tender and heartbreakingly beautiful. His poems open quietly, like a chrysalis opens to a butterfly. 

What I wouldn’t do

or undo (winter whispered

in a voice akin to mine) to see

one more time what my touch

might make of your face.

The Dyzgraphxst arrived this year sweeping the poetry stage, winning the Griffin Poetry Prize. There is an epic feel to this work, poems simultaneously deconstructed and reckoned with. Lubrin has cast her net broadly—climate change, wars, mass migration, love and loss, family, and kinship.

of peace, to want to live in a world my own hand 

has made, not hands too aware of their wild plots

just one hand in the world, meeting other hands

First is a tough and tender exploration of firsts. Poet Arlene Paré is searching for a long lost first friend from childhood. Then her work fans out to other firsts, taking readers on a juxtaposition of memory, until they too are searching and raining tears. How fragile we are. 

When she becomes lost no one will know where she is. Her two sisters

will be lost too. All three of them disappearing into the thin air of grown

up. Her parents gone. Her aunt. Her hair her blue eye her backbone

steely as petrified wood.

Terence Young’s Smithereens is a delicate and sophisticated collection, also a meditation on lost time. The poems begin small with the quotidian and before you know it, the power and the passion have crept up on you and exploded into, well, smithereens. In Young’s deft hands, the playful seamlessly waltzes into joy and upheaval. 

My child’s fever, his sharp pain, 

the sudden pang of each tympanum

ruptures, a boy deafened, bleeding

from both ears while I am thinking

emergency room, gas mask, oblivion.

Yusuf Saadi’s first collection was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize this year. Pluviophile means “lover of rain,” and the poems are exquisite, small jewels, each a search for the sacred within. For the mystery and magic life beholds. 

So soft, straight lines

melt into curves –

each road in your palm

bridges the distances

between us. The brink

But all the poems here are merely fragments. You will want to come to hear the poets read for the wholeness. 

Mary MacDonald is a poet and writer. Her work has appeared in Room Magazine and  Pique Newsmagazine. Her poetry chapbook, Going in Now, was published in 2014. The Crooked Thing was released in October 2020. MacDonald is a member of Whistler’s Viscous Circle Writing Group, sits on the board of the Whistler Writing Society, and serves as curator and moderator for the poetry division of the festival.

MacDonald will be leading these five poets in discussion at Picking Up What Was Lost, part of the Whistler Writers Festival. The virtual panel discussion and reading is set for Saturday, Oct. 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tickets available at whistlerwritersfest.com.