Julie Bruck’s Monkey Ranch: A success by any measure
Reviewed by George Murray (Globe and Mail - The Daily Review - Wednesday, May 16, 2012)
If you’re the gambling type, 2012 is a hard year to place your bets on winners in the poetry world. Many of this country’s most ingenious, successful and respected poets (Roo Borson, Anne Carson, Dennis Lee, Don McKay, A.F. Moritz and Erin Mouré, among them) are publishing new work. But how do poets get these positive measurements (ingenious, successful, respected) attached to their careers?
Do we count number of books squeezed into the world? Number of years of attendance on the scene? Number of plastic trophies on the shelf? One of the greatest poets of the English language (also with deep Canadian ties, no matter what the Americans tell you), Elizabeth Bishop, only published three books in her lifetime, so we can’t use that.
Most of our hot young bucks, the likes of Carmine Starnino and Karen Solie, have only been around for a blip on the timescale of poetry, so that’s no good. Richard Outram, perhaps Canada’s greatest poet, was barely recognized in his lifetime, so nix that too.
What, then, is it that takes someone from the writhing masses of unacknowledged poets to the top of the pile? If it’s not endurance, fireworks or accolades, is it luck?
Not with poets like Julie Bruck. With three books and no major awards to her name in 20 years, Bruck is not only eligible for this triple crown of adjectives, but largely deserving.
It’s been nearly 13 years since Bruck’s last title, The End of Travel, and Monkey Ranch shows a grown craft and worldview, acting like a lens, magnifying and focusing her youthful, bright gaze on all things intellectual and domestic into a mature, white-hot point, the kind kids might use to kill ants or set newsprint ablaze.
At first glance, many of Bruck’s poems seem to teeter dangerously close to mere prose, telling stories of family set in kitchens, grocers, schools and parks, but it is in how these small dramas and moments of bliss play out against the backdrop of aging and a decade’s raucous world crisis that creates a seething, dangerous tension bubbling just below the surface.
Bruck’s stories-in-poetry are deceptively chatty, like the work of Don Coles, using plain language that doesn’t shy from pop-culture references to evoke little scenes: an old woman reaching for a top shelf at the store; airport patrons’ reaction to catching sight of aging rockers; animals inhabiting their tiny spaces at the zoo. Yet, she moves equally easily into the deeply political, examining disasters, deaths and war-torn street scenes filtered through the 24-hour news cycle.
It’s this oscillation of the poet’s camera lens, moving from the extreme close-up of a child discovering how the world works by watching a caged animal to the wide pan of an adult doing the same by watching soldiers’ coffins being shipped home, that raises Bruck’s Monkey Ranch from the merely prosaic to poetically powerful.
George Murray released a book of poetry, Whiteout, last month.