Canadian Literature Review - Wolf Tree

Reviewed by: Joel Deshaye

Alison Calder's Wolf Tree and Gil McElroy's Last Scattering Surfaces are my favourites in this selection of recent publications. They are both worth rereading. McElroy's book is marvellous, though highly abstract. Calder's Wolf Tree is initially more accessible and is equally imaginative.

The wolf tree in Calder's title, and the book itself, can be understood as a family tree that traces an atavistic line from people to other animals. The people include circus freaks such as Zip "the What-is-it" and "the Ape-Girl" in addition to a woman who feigned giving birth to rabbits and another who simply stopped shaving her legs. There is also the hirsute and simian Julia Pastrana. In "Charles Eisenmann Looks at a Photograph of Julia Pastrana," Eisenmann says, in a line with an appropriately pompous iambic ending, "Put her with potted plants, decked out in paint and feathers: / from jungles hot and dark we bring the missing link." The misanthrope in me loves the varied and subtle criticism of anthropocentrism in Wolf Tree. Even sections that initially seem not to fit, such as the series of poems about inner-city Winnipeg and the Kroetsch-inspired "Sexting the Prairie," show that the human-animal division is much like other divisions that prevent us from establishing healthy relationships with others. Animals are in us; the book's first poem has a bird trying to escape from the eye of the speaker, who says: "Lately I've learned to see through wings." "The wild comes back," Calder later states in the title poem, and sometimes it comes out of us, sometimes as poetry.

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