…Phil Hall’s An Oak Hunch is like the scabby, weathered stump of an old tree, full of what Hall calls (in a typically striking phrase) “treasure-knots in wood.” In this ninth collection, the Toronto writer reinvents the poetic staple of personal anecdote by digging up the “sub-narratives” of a life growing up poor in rural Ontario. The poems encompass family history (“The Great Hunger had destroyed crop after / crop of my ancestors… I had to eat their stories to know them, had / to plant and plow under their little songs in mine”) and tributes to other writers with whome Hall feels a kinship (in a poem about CanLit great Al Purdy, the wind in a cornfield is “the paper applause of an ancient voice”). Hall’s poems are no picnic to read. They’re densely knotted and halting (as he puts it, “Pain — the sharpener / has attached a grindstone”). But their stunning metaphors make An Oak Hunch a strong contender.