Local poetry flourishes with three new publications

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Three Edmonton poets, three new books in less than as many weeks, and Glass Buffalo helped each get their start.

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Jason Purcell, who uses they/them pronouns, explores their experiences with illness and queerness, and the intersection of the two in Swollening, released March 22 by Arsenal Pulp Press.

“There’s so much to be said for the ways in which we hold so much in our bodies. That can be trauma, that can be stress, that can be anxiety,” says Purcell. “I don’t think we live in a culture that allows us to properly attend to those types of feelings. We carry them with us; we have them in our tight shoulders, in our guts.”

Problems with teeth also play a major role in Swollening, including some very visceral issues talking about both dental work and problems in the mouth.

“The tooth runs so deep into the skull like a story,” Purcell writes in one poem entitled Cavity.

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“I think there’s something about teeth, the mouth, dentistry; it does evoke such strong emotions in people,” they say.

It’s not just a fear of dentists or drills causing anxiety; access to dental care can be gated behind privilege and wealth. Without money, problems with teeth can persist for years without treatment.

Purcell had their first poetry published in Glass Buffalo, a literary magazine started by Matthew Stepanic. The pair worked together to open Glass Bookshop, the store the two now co-own.

Purcell’s foray into retail doesn’t mean the end of their literary stylings. They’re working on a novel about the power dynamics between a student and a professor, as well as a memoir about internalized homophobia and the queer community.

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Glass Buffalo nurtures another

Purcell isn’t the only newly published poet to get their start with Glass Buffalo. Gavin Bradley had his first poem by him published by the magazine and now he’s celebrating his debut collection by him, Separation Anxiety, which was released March 18 by University of Alberta Press.

Gavin Bradley's debut poetry collection, Separation Anxiety, was released March 18 by University of Alberta Press.
Gavin Bradley’s debut poetry collection, Separation Anxiety, was released March 18 by University of Alberta Press. Supplied

Bradley came to Edmonton from Ireland in 2012 to pursue his lifelong love of paleontology while studying at the U of A. His book intertwines a longing for home and his grief over the dissolution of an important relationship; one part homesick and one part heartbreak.

“Something a lot of people will find accessible is the slow deterioration of a relationship,” says Bradley. “What I noticed when I was writing towards a collection, I thought half of these poems are relationship poems, half are about Ireland and leaving home. I don’t remember a lightbulb moment, but at some point in time, this was all happening at the same time so why isn’t it the same book?”

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Like Purcell, Bradley deals with difficult emotions he’s revealing to a wider audience, a level of vulnerability and exposure that can be challenging. But it can also lead to something constructive, a release valve. As Bradley explains, “therapy is the best therapy,” but writing can be a close second.

“When I started writing those poems it was very cathartic in moving past that relationship,” says Bradley. “You couldn’t hyperbole, you couldn’t dramatize things when you are in that moment and feeling raw. You have to look at things more objectively.”

While his day job is teaching paleontology to first and second-year university students, he continues to work on his writing. Bradley is working on a collection of short stories, fantasy and science fiction, trying new things to keep himself engaged with the craft.

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The kids are okay

Nisha Patel’s newest release, NOT A DISORDER, isn’t her first publication, but it’s still an important poetry collection for the former City of Edmonton Poet Laureate, coming March 28 from Gap Riot Press.

Nisha Patel's newest chapbook, NOT A DISORDER, will be available March 28.
Nisha Patel’s newest chapbook, NOT A DISORDER, will be available March 28. Supplied

The collection is written as a reaction to the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide used by health professionals to diagnose mental unwellness using common language. The book became a criticism of what Patel saw as a system that breaks down patients to a set of symptoms rather than looking at a patient as a whole person.

“For me, I was trying to contrast the fact that there are lived realities of being ill and then there’s these clinical definitions,” says Patel. “I am kind of going through this process right now and have been for two years where I have asked for and got access to many of my medical records, being someone who has been in the hospital a lot.”

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While it can be daunting for some people to talk about mental health so openly, Patel says she has always been comfortable with public speaking and performing poetry on stage helps her move past that discomfort.

Patel got her start with Glass Buffalo while attending the U of A. They even published two of her chapbooks. Her debut book, Coconut, was published last year by NeWest Press.

Now, Patel has her eye on finishing a master of fine arts in creative writing. She’s also working in different artistic disciplines, recreating famous album covers but with disabled individuals.

“I did the Katy Perry Teenage Dream cover. It’s mostly me naked with clouds,” she says with a laugh.

yegarts@postmedia.com

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