Toronto Star Review - Masham Means Evening

Toronto Star
Reviewed by: By Barb Carey

Toronto Star

Nov.-8-13

By Barb Carey

Masham Means Evening

 Kanina Dawson

 Coteau Books, 76 pages, $16.95

 The question “Where are you from?” inevitably comes up sooner or later when getting to know someone, and for most of us, the answer is part of how we think of ourselves. So it’s not surprising that a sense of place is central to the work of many poets.

That place needn’t be home ground. Masham Means Evening, Ottawa poet Kanina Dawson’s debut collection, takes readers to Afghanistan, where she served as a member of the Canadian military. These anecdotal poems have a documentary-style tone and are laconically prosaic. But at their best, they zero in on telling and evocative details. In her description of the female principal of Kabul University, Dawson notes: “Her heels click on the floor,/a post-Taliban luxury for a woman ­ to make noise”; elsewhere, a briefing room “smells like a cottage/closed up in the dead of summer” (the heat and extreme conditions are recurrent themes). There are accounts of firefights, suicide bombers and casualties on both sides of the conflict, as well as portrayals of ordinary Afghans trying to live a normal life in a battle zone. The collection as a whole offers an intimate look at what it’s like to be at war in a place that most of us know only through news coverage.

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