The Back Channels

The Back Channels

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About the book

  • New Brunswick's Alfred G. Bailey Prize for best poetry manuscript
  • Gerald Lampert Memorial Award — shortlisted
Jennifer Houle's debut collection, The Back Channels, reflects the effort to build a meaningful life in a rapidly changing culture, in a region afflicted, as many are, with outmigration and an economy of anxiety and hard choices. Here, the past is "almost all there is," becoming "our only source of light" as she takes us to the backwoods where a discouraged woman walks, the shore beyond the fairgrounds, "the tire swings, car lots and empty lodges ranged /in crude half-circles like small handfuls of thrown bones," and the parking lots where smokers gather to talk about layoffs or pay cuts. Her poems invite the reader to listen in on these moments and pause among these landscapes, never mistaking its often rural settings for places of retreat or escape. The largely Acadian culture depicted in these poems may still be influenced by the past, caught in its own reflected image, but it moves, as do the poems, to a steady, if moody, rhythm determined to find meaning and purpose in spite of difficulties, flux, and a seemingly pervasive cynicism. Reminiscent of Karen Solie's early work, Houle's brilliance as a poet is her mastery of language and keen sense of observation with which she draws the reader in. These poems come from a place of grappling, an attempt to find meaning, beauty, and connection in the day-to-day, without being confined by it.

About the author

Jennifer Houle grew up in Shediac, New Brunswick.  Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals over the past ten years.  Her work has won several awards, including The Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s Alfred G. Bailey Prize for best poetry manuscript, awarded for The Back Channels.  A lifelong East Coaster, she now lives in Hanwell, just outside of Fredericton, with her husband and two sons

Excerpt

from Talk of Mermaids

This is the shift of the heart’s tumbled pin,
the bloodshot eye and the haul: smokers trickle
from the old boucannerie, converted now,
one body, one bad lung, a rotting arctic char

between them: web of sick, soft tissues. Nets
of spittle, wry grins, unenviable shrewdness.
Banned crab heaved into slatted wirebounds
leaks into cynical chat. Dreaded things

are sure now, handed down, and trawling
for a private place to die, they ring our darkest
impulses and vex small acts of kindness
with a nervous calculation, shy self-interest.

Now is not the time for talk of mermaids,
questionable motives, far-fetched sentience,
or the pain of others. Skepticism rears
its double, whiskered chin, disarticulating

wonder with a grunt. Heavy snowfall
is predicted, work is to be done. Everywhere
we look, stock images: a hull shears cold,
black water in dead silence. Nothing floats,

nor swims, to the surface. Only when you turn
your back, a fin on the horizon. Excitations
kin to the aurora borealis fumble and fail
beautifully, trying something different.

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