Book Review: The North End Poems

The urban masculine form has long been a rhetorical faded denim and stubble kind of thing: a pose without conscience. However, poet Michael Knox in his sophomore poetry outing attempts to pulverize and reinvent a working-class machodrama of sorts by widening the scope. Ambitious and meaty, the book is a lot like a play of poems with a variety of toughs (male and female) who seem to know (at least partially) they need to become sensitive and real if they want to have good lives. The poems shift POV’s from a variety of characters, boys and girls who all live in the ultimate masculine backdrop, that of a steel town. Knox’s poems seek comfort in the wear and tear of it all. They seek out empathy and purge fears and desires, regardless of whose specific voice we’re listening to. Writing from Jen’s perspective, Knox sustains the mood without bursting the page with chaotic fits or rants. (“And all the good mothers in their beds/ in houses with lus lawns / in suburbs that stretch silent miles/ and their soulmates sleeping soundly next to them / make me want to put a sugar jar through the window”). The language is rich, the narrative attempts (and occasionally reaches) redemption. The characters who scurry around the downtrodden town are written in vulnerable and authentic forms. Knox’s moments of brevity are the most accessible in the collection. In “Before the Gym” for example, the poet enters his subject’s mental chamber like an invisible bullet, revealing his face, painting a clear picture of the man’s physicality and cerebral spaces. (“he imagines/flesh into sand/into oblivion/ feet then shins knees.”) The grit is real, the form concise. The North End Poems is a poetic adaptation of a night out howling with your drinking buddies, where more is revealed than you thought imaginable, a night that terrifies, inspires and drains you in all the right ways. (Nathaniel G. Moore)

by Michael Knox, $16.95, 120 pgs, ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East Suite 200, Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2