USEREVIEW 092 (Capsule): If You Discover a Fire

Annick MacAskill/ August 31, 2022/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Shaun Robinson
If You Discover a Fire (Brick Books, 2020)
ISBN 978-1-77131-527-2 | 72 pp | $20 CAD | BUY Here


Like a shadowy watermark, a note of anxiety lies beneath the cool, attentive observations of Vancouver-based Shaun Robinson’s debut poetry collection, If You Discover a Fire. It is this mixed tone, a sort of muted dread, and not a common subject, that unites the poems in the book. In this, Robinson shirks the current trend towards themed poetry collections; it seems impossible to say exactly what his book ‘is about,’ beyond an articulation of a sort of generalized malaise in the contemporary world.

Many aspects of the collection — the poet’s interest in travel, the precise and detailed descriptions of varied surroundings, the speaker’s tendency to talk to himself through the intimate second-person address, the poet’s predilection for inserting direct and indirect discourse into condensed lines — call to mind the work of Karen Solie. And as in Solie’s work, I note in If You Discover a Fire a remarkable talent for figurative language. Consider, for example, the quick succession of similes and metaphors in the opening lines ‘Disaster Preparedness’:

The night wears the moon
like a headlamp, checking the city’s
expiry date, drunk students
rolling around like batteries
in a drawer as their bus mounts
the suspension bridge,
its cables a graph
of probabilities.

Recommended excerpt:

‘Versus Nature’ impresses not only as an understated, yet faithfully rhymed, English-language sonnet, but also as a relatable account of regret, ending on one of the poet’s unexpected yet fitting metaphors:

The kettle comes to a boil,
and light like flat ale in a shaker glass
presses against the window and won’t pass.

Annick MacAskill is the author of three full-length poetry collections, including Shadow Blight, which was published by Gaspereau Press in the spring of 2022. Her poems have appeared in journals across Canada and abroad and in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology series. She has been selected as a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the CBC Poetry Prize, the Arc Poem of the Year Award and an Atlantic Book Award, among other honours. MacAskill also recently served as Arc’s 2021-2022 Poet-in-Residence. She lives in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. More:

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