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One of the first poems in Jennifer LoveGrove’s second collection, I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel, describes an innocent scene gone violently wrong. A guest, who is also “you,” is beating the shit out of a piñata at a child’s birthday party and the other parents don’t know how to react: “at first they laugh / and miss their turn. Then. . . take a step back. . . cover their children’s eyes.” Poems like “Piñata” and “Scarecrows” introduce LoveGrove’s sense of inept human social relations, a society in which friendships “fly off when she glances away” or where she “blink[s] the guests into strangers.” This is a book of psychologically jarring poems. The reader is buffeted from one surreal setting to the next, with nothing to grab hold of that doesn’t, on the following page, melt into a violent, unsettling, or macabre version of itself. This is not a bad thing. LoveGrove presents a challenging vision of unsociable and austere worlds. But sometimes we’re brought into these other worlds a little too often: they either make so little sense or exist so fleetingly that we are unable to value or learn from their novelty. They become, merely, a random act in an unknown setting, glimpsed as a channel is flipped. At other times, though, LoveGrove’s ability to create other spaces achieves a vivid and startling perspective. The character of a faux-plastic surgeon and her unsavory existence in the poems of the central section (“The Beauty Killer Poems”) is great. These six poems contain an entire life: they’re impressive for their strength of voice, their intentionality and their sophistication. The closing section, “Fully Autonomous Planets,” also offers some gems of the odd (parallel) lives lived by other professionals (“The Orthodontist,” “The Skater,” “The Campaign Manager”) who seem to inhabit strange universes where the laws of physics are not the same. Again, however, I read these poems looking for some sort of culmination. . . I was hoping for a kooky guide to one fully-autonomous planet rather than an accumulation of individuals existing in their own planets, each with its own laws and reality, its own strange lights beaming out “another half-whispered riddle.” But maybe LoveGrove’s worlds just make me uneasy, in denial. Though this hint of a riddle can make some of the poems seem too opaque, the times of clarity, and the powerful imagery that LoveGrove imbues these with are worth the read. (Matt Holmes)

by Jennifer LoveGrove, $16.95, 70 pgs, ECW Press (a MisFit book), 2120 Queen St. East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2,

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