World of Words: Poetry in a Slant Room

Yukon poet Michael Eden Reynolds’ first book, Slant Room, released today by The Porcupine’s Quill, shows us a stark natural world, and us in it.

The first half, titled “Migrations”, “is very spare imagery with little human contact,” Reynolds says. “In the second half of the book, the tension between humanity and the natural world is really present.”

Slant Room consists of ten years of writing and the key to the title lies in Emily Dickinson’s statement: “Tell the truth but tell it slant.”

“I want readers to experience something more than just reading, something sensory, personal,” Reynolds says.

Readers will find examples of the couplet style of ghazal poetry created by the Persians, and sonnets, although the traditional metre and line count is stretched when Reynolds emphasizes sound and rhythm over imagery.

“Knowing the shaped of the poem before I write helps when I am writing,” says Reynolds. In Slant Room readers will recognize the influence of North American poets Ken Babstock, John Thompson, and Mark Strand, Scotland’s W.S. Graham and Whitehorse Poetry Festival guest John Haines.

Reynolds met Haines, a poet in his mid-80s who commits much of his work to memory, by volunteering to be his driver. “We parked at the Mile’s Canyon lookout and I asked John if he would recite some of his poetry, which he did. These are poems he wrote fifty years ago,” Reynolds says of the experience. “That’s something poetry has lost. There are not a lot of poets who know their own work by heart,” let alone readers who do. “But, I remember my grandfather could recite poetry off the top of his head. I can’t think of a modern poet who is known like that,” Reynolds added.

When he’s not writing, Reynolds works for YTG as an in-home caregiver. He developed his craft through Yukon College workshops with Patricia Robertson and had the opportunity to show his work to Erling Friis-Baastad. “He took it seriously, and gave me the advice to ‘knock out the jams’.”

As Reynolds explains, “knocking out the jams is about instead of writing conservative confessional poetry, find a new way to say things. Maybe not beatnik experiments, but your own way.”

Through Zach Wells, an influential Canadian poetry critic and blogger, Wayne Clifford at The Porcupine’s Quill became aware of Reynolds’ writing. “It’s funny because I was raised in Caledon, and Porcupine’s Quill is fifteen minutes down the road. It’s probably the only press in Canada I can find without a map and address.” When he was invited to read from Slant Room in Toronto, “it was a real watershed for me. It felt significant to me to do something there for my friends and family.”

For us, Reynolds launches Slant Room with a reading at the Old Fire Hall on Thursday, October 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. with Andrea McColeman providing live music.

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