Vancouver Poet Alex Leslie offers repeating melodies and intimate abstractions

Photo courtesy of Nightwood Editions.

“I, not here, write.” The magnificent The things I heard about you by Vancouver writer Alex Leslie is a book of thought-provoking poetry. A mixture of prose, narrative, and erasure poetry, things entices the reader with lyrical repeating melodies. As the poems get smaller, the words become so much brighter.

Shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, this debut poetry collection is fresh and abstract. The relationship between the reader and speaker is intimate. “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” for instance, is a throbbing tale of loss and the need for multiple covers of the song on an iPod in order to truly feel the sorrow.

Photo courtesy of Nightwood Editions.
Photo courtesy of Nightwood Editions.

Leslie borrows from the song and narrates in a prosaic manner while crafting delicate lines of poetry such as “all mantras are identical. A harness, a poem made too small. A trick of bearable limits, an exercise in the planned application of pain.”

Generally, in the realm of poetry, a word like ‘pain’ is seen as melodramatic, but Leslie pulls it off. The poem deals with the often melodramatic theme of sorrow, and turns it into a beautiful piece of poetry that melds the role of reader and speaker.

After each poem comes a smaller one. Leslie continues her exploration of borrowing and erasure, taking from each preceding poem to create a smaller poem that merges the reader and speaker closer together.

As the poems grow smaller, they become more abstract, yet simultaneously more precise. In particular, as “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” gets smaller, brilliant abstractions like these begin to emerge: “three months after your death: wet skin, bare ingrown dog, dark in the stasis, the demand to see thunder.” These abstractions are gems, and help guide the reader into the psyche of the speaker.

Leslie’s The things I heard about you is a masterful exploration of the blurred lines between writer and reader. Leslie explores social issues with enlightening subtlety that will leave you reeling.

Merging genres effortlessly, she explores the art of borrowing, and the erasure of her own prose into poetry. One might conclude that Leslie simply creates prose poetry only to narrow it down to the barest, most intimate essentials.