The Hottest Summer in Recorded History, Elizabeth Bachinsky, 80 pgs, Nightwood Editions, nightwoodeditions.com, $18.95
This fifth collection of poems from Elizabeth Bachinsky is surprisingly uneven. Surprisingly, because the distance between her hits and her misses seems rather wide: it’s rare to be able to describe a single volume as both boring and funny, both trite and poetic. Although the book is weak as a collection, it does contain several poems which are very much worth reading.
Bachinsky’s variety of styles is sometimes successful. At her most formal, most repetitive and tightest, her command of rhythm, sound and her wit come across very clearly. I particularly loved the poem “Nails,” in which each line concludes with the titular word in all-caps, driving the piece forward with a dark yet manic insistence. The opening poem of the collection, “You Know What Readers Like,” is constructed of delicate couplets which nevertheless are subtly punchy: “Often I would come home from my coffee / shop job and just sob” she writes, and her words give a heightened expression to a mundane experience.
But many of her poems are more prosaic formally, grammatically and in content. The poem that gives its name to the collection, “The Hottest Summer in Recorded History (A Fiction),” tells a story of potential infidelity, and its straightforward presentation doesn’t breathe much new life into an often-utilized theme. Perhaps most unfortunate are the poems that present a kind of tour of Canada, in which Bachinsky offers hackneyed truisms as revelations: Montreal has a lot of Jewish food and francophones, Vancouver is known for its junkies, Newfoundlanders say “b’y.” Here Bachinsky’s treatment of the commonplace is itself commonplace.
All collections have their stronger and weaker poems, and The Hottest Summer in Recorded History may have more of the latter than the former. But even if it isn’t exactly a cover-to-cover must-read, it is definitely worth flipping through. (Andrew Woodrow-Butcher)