rob mclennan: Reviews


Jamie Townsend's MATRYOSHKA, Edward Smallfield's Equinox





Jamie Townsend

8$ US

Houston TX: little red leaves, 2011

reviewed by rob mclennan


            1.             must mean something

                              for words

                        a lateral prop a

                                shunt –

                        rather to watch streaming

                            video delay

                        in evenings


East Kensington, Philadelphia poet Jamie Townsend's second chapbook, MATRYOSHKA (Houston TX: little red leaves, 2011), on the heels of his STRIP/HALO, is part of Dawn Pendergast's little red leaves textile series, “lovingly sewn using recycled curtains and other textile remnants.” Townsend's small, graceful and enviable chapbook is a binary poem, each page with two pieces, an “I” and an “O,” with a weave of punctuated paper swirls, tiny needle holes, swirling between.


            O.            fiber art pictorial

                            cross rooftops

                        nonesuch remnant

                        weather   projections

                            overlaid strands

                                satellite updates

                        bold formulations


A sequence of meditative bursts, patters and patterns slowly emerge in these small pieces, weaving their sharp way across a subtle scope. Townsend seems capable of quite a lot in such a small space, a small canvas, packing much into his wonderments. As Michael Cross writes in a recent blog posting, quoting poet/critic Brenda Iijima, on Townsend's chapbook (June 9, 2011,


The poems are totally elemental (down to the binary "1" and "0" headings) in that the language seems to register phenomena in the body while processing it ("rendering" it?) on the page (as if the chapbook were a sense organ). Townsend uses tons of nouns in these short bursts, which contribute, I think, to the haptic weight of each page. And Dawn Pendergast's INCREDIBLE design work (including some super delicate sewing on every page) further adds to the language's material presence. Little Red Leaves co-editor Ash Smith writes of MATRYOSHKA: "The title...denotes famous Russian nesting dolls, and yet the subtle physics and physicality of such poems which attend to "sub-dermal termites scattering" reveal that such momentary nesting is in fact a station in orbit." Indeed.



*              *                 *




Edward Smallfield

US $15.95, 92 pages

Berkeley, CA: Apogee Press, 2011

reviewed by rob mclennan


ciao, Marcello


                                           On a bridge

      in a country                            of cars

              on the radio                              from afar

                                                an edge

    you had crossed            over                        a wedge

                                 Life                 is a lure

            & through the half-open doors

     in hotel hallways               the black & white almost measures

Something is always beginning or ending            The water

            in all the fountains            in Rome         has stopped

                     The flashbulbs & balloons have popped

                                 Life is a feather

               who                                                On the radio

                                                                        , ciao


When I first saw some of the pieces that make up appear in American ex-pat Edward Smallfield's Equinox (2011) in an issue of New American Writing, I was immediately taken with his cadence, the edge and the flow of how each short poem stretches across the page, reminiscent of Canadian poet Jay Millar's brilliant chapbook-sequence Sporadic Growth: being a third season of 26 fungal threads (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2006).. In three sections—Memoir, Solstice and Elegy—Smallfield's Equinoxis constructed out of lively, single-page meditations that dance across the stretches of family, history, travel, music, painting and literature, including small poems-as-essays on (and sometimes from/after) Catullus, Lorine Niedecker, George Oppen, William Carlos Williams, Billie Holiday, New York City, Vivaldi, Archilochos and Jorge Luis Borges. A number of these names even return a few times, in subsequent pieces. As the notes at the back of the collection suggest, the pieces exist not only as small essays, but plunder the language of other writers and other works, weaving into the poems to stretch his language even further, with a listing of many of the poems with names and/or titles following, perhaps even suggesting further directions to add breadth to the reading. There is something of the “day book” to Smallfield's pieces, writing poems-as-daily-practice, a quality of daily contemplation through poems, and Denise Newman, in her back cover blurb, refers to these as “floating notes,” which I quite like.


The publisher/editor of Berkeley's impressive Apogee Press, Barcelona-based Smallfield's publishing history has but only a few titles over the past seventeen years, from The Pleasures of C (Apogee Press, 2001), Trio (Specter Press, 1995) and the collaborative One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (with Doug MacPherson; Battery Press, 2003), to the collaborative chapbook locate(with Miriam Pirone; dancing girl press, 2008), but if any of those are even close to the thoughtful quality of Equinox, they might all be required.





along the river the morning                        hulls

rust in the water                    shells

abandoned after                        the tools:

erosion                           years                           caracoles

logarithm            arithmetic                     the null

set                        oxidizes            the hills

cling to the road                    time's fool

                   cows                  & sheep

                                                a few horses

                                          the discourse

= silence                              = sleep

                 the show is always about to start

                 oh, now furniture is a work of art






Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at