Chapbooks: diversity and variety

Hey Trouble and Other Poems 
by Sharon McCartney

London: Baseline Press, 2023
$15.00 / 9781928066910

In the Warm Shallows of What Remains
by Andrea Scott

Salt Spring Island: Raven Chapbooks, 2024
$22.95 / 9781778160356

Reviewed by Catherine Owen


I admire the art of chapbook creation and have myself been involved in the sewing and stapling of chapbooks over the years, with my first press Wet Sickle (1993-1996) and a later co-production called Above and Beyond (2011-2014). Victoria resident Sharon McCartney’s Hey Trouble and Other Poems, released by Baseline Press, features many of the aesthetic delights of the chapbook: hand-sewn binding, textured paper, a ragged flyleaf, and supreme attention to detail—from the cover image of a bow-tied sheep to the delicious font. 

Author Sharon McCartney

I’m a reader of McCartney’s from way back so was looking forward to this sampling of pieces in her dryly ironic but subtly melancholic style, from the longer titular poem to her often solo stanza lyrics.

“Hey Trouble” is both shimmeringly funny and deeply depressive, with images veering from bipolar disorder, drinking, and the “wrecking yard” of Edmontonian streets to the sound play of t-words repeated as a goofily haunting refrain: “Hey trinity, hey tribulation, hey trifle.” Grim statements like, “Life is just trading one ache for another” (and how well I relate!) are balanced by the recorded graces of finding a bag of unexpected coffee in the cupboard. Or the acknowledgement that “Hey trouble, here’s a surprise / I am at peace.”

This poem is the strongest evocation in the chapbook, but there are also lyrics that do the trick of combining tones, melding overt despair with secret joys, relentless itinerancy and rupture with persistent instances of transcendence. I especially appreciated the grief expressed in “The Morning Of” about putting her dog to sleep, steeped in memories of “lobbing his beloved ball into the river” though the reality is now, “Falling into his own excrement.” And then “Casual Friday” returns to a prior time where “The aged dog is eating well” and McCartney can list a string of blessings on a rare day when she can conclude, despite losses, and echoing Rilke, “Perhaps I have not wasted my life.”

This exquisite chapbook is both a taster of this sharply memorable poet’s style and sufficient in and of itself, light enough to carry in all its darknesses, through the world. 

Conversely, I had never read Victoria writer Andrea Scott before, the winner of the Raven Chapbooks 2024 contest, sponsored by Salt Spring Island’s Rainbow Publishers, and her chapbook design is almost as different as can be from McCartney’s: large with a spine (an amazing feat at only 44 pages!), glossy, with bold lettering and a coloured reproduction of a lesser work of PK Irwin’s on the cover—well-chosen to echo PK Page’s influence within. 

This is what I like about the chapbook format, though: its very diversity and variety. Scott’s In the Warm Shallows of What Remains (not a fan of such vague titles) presents twenty poems in four numbered sections, all reflecting on nature, family, death, and the earth’s despoliations (a regular thread of concern).

I’m a huge proponent of form in poetry and Scott does not disappoint on that front. She includes several glosas, a zuihitsu (disorderly Japanese prose poem collage), and a ghazal. Her duplex is probably my favourite piece in the book with its binary stanzas that begin first with “Proof that we were human” and second with “Proof that we were animals,” and especially the lines: “Headstones with our names waiting, death date TBD” and “How we had a fishy feeling / about the future.” 

Author Andrea Scott (photo: Melanie Watson)

The strongest pieces dwell on tending. A garden, children, or even the beautiful limitations of personhood, as in the tight couplets of “I have only ever been of this Earth,” where the speaker follows Peter Pan, even to the point of arranging pieces of a “worn tablecloth… like feathers” on her arms before realizing she wants to stay grounded, “dreaming only of a short, safe flight.” The Nerudian-style love ode to the earthworm, the quest for the deceased with the lines, “The ghost of a loved one lost makes up 70 / percent of your body,” the exclamatory anaphora of, “because hailstones!/because nosebleeds! / because sex with someone new!,” the sound of “slow in the grove” from “Return to the Lake of Shining Waters,” and the soup-making of “The World was Ending” are all very satisfying. 

While a few poems take erraticism too far in their line breaks (especially the “Tragically Sinking Glosa,” whose lines range from one word to fourteen, unless that is meant to replicate the drowning feeling of the title), Scott’s chapbook is a strong collection of consistent lyrics that celebrates the necessities of all that is real, those “seed packs tambourining.”

[Editor’s note: Andrea Scott will launch her book on Salt Spring Island, Saturday June 22 at 7pm; in Victoria, she’ll launch Thursday July 25 at 7pm.]


Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen was born and raised in Vancouver by an ex-nun and a truck driver. The oldest of five children, she began writing at three and published at eleven—a short story in a Catholic school’s writing contest chapbook. She gave public poetry readings in her teens; Exile Editions published her poetry collection on Egon Schiele in 1998. Since then, she’s released fifteen collections of poetry and prose, including essays, memoirs, short fiction, and children’s books. Her latest books are Riven and Locations of Grief. She also runs Marrow Reviews, the podcast Ms Lyric’s Poetry Outlaws, the YouTube channel The Reading Queen, and the performance series, 94th Street Trobairitz. She’s been on 12 cross-Canada tours, played bass in metal bands, worked in BC Film Props, and currently runs an editing business out of her 1905 house in Edmonton where she lives with four cats. [Editor’s note: Catherine Owen has also reviewed books by Tom Wayman, Chris Walter, Andrea Warner, Aaron Chapman, Emelia Symington-Fedy, Sean Kelly, Jason Schreurs, and Adrienne Fitzpatrick for BCR.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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