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When he was still in high school, poet Brian Bartlett was invited to join the Ice House Gang, a group of poets who took their name from the fact that they gathered Tuesday nights at the University of New Brunswick's historic Ice House. There he found both encouragement and inspiration from fellow poets Robert Gibbs, Bill Bauer, Kent Thompson and Alden Nowlan. By the time he was 18, he had published his first chapbook of poetry, which was followed by six full-length volumes. Three decades later, the best poems from his previous books have been collected in Wanting the Day.
Showcased chronologically, the poems show the evolution of the poet, from his first book of poetry in 1972 (Brother's Insomnia) to his most recent in 2002 (The Afterlife of Trees), while Bartlett's talent is evident in all the pieces.
Nature becomes spiritual at the tip of Bartlett's pen as he allows us to descend into it with him, where branches become shadows and "the forest loses in itself/eggs, excrement, antlers/though we found something[...,]" ("This Bridge is No Bridge"); when he expresses quiet gratitude for the gifts of nature in "Cyclist's Diary: In the Tunnel" ("Have never asked for dewdrops//suspended from every weed, sunlight always/glancing off my spokes, beauty/caught with every heartbeat[...]"); or when he spots "an osprey nest/the solidest thing in sight, great assertion/clumped at a tree top[...,]" ("River There, River Here").
People are just as unpredictable, as in "Cattail Week," when "He gives her a wink and a cattail. / Time for a fandango. She swings the stalk/over her head, bends it round her neck/and into their faces/breaks a soft storm[,]" or when "The boy who led her down basement steps/has gone like a cough in the night[,]" ("In a House Where Chastity Was Taught for a Century").
The mark of a good poet is his ability to evoke emotion - each poem packs a punch - and it is a mark that Bartlett has left on every poem in this collection. "November Mare," for example, speaks of a longing for fair weather to stay longer and of a sense of regret that comes when the first snowfall portends otherwise: "When her head dips/low, she hears a thrashing underground - / Summer, a colt buried alive."
Bartlett also possesses another trait of an accomplished poet; the ability to turn the mundane into something magnificent, such as "a man with frost-hooded eyebrows[,]" ("From the Upriver Bus"); or a hotel in Winnipeg where "The stink of carpets/wanders the halls, the bathtub/contains more history/than I'm willing or able to read[,]" ("Hotel of Dust"); or even the idiosyncrasies of an old-timer: "Out of his earshot, we turned/words like 'insufferable' into olives[,]" ("Diminished"). Even a lady at a laundromat can become the poet's muse: "the old woman pours/bleach from a bottle that seems/to have no bottom. How deep/can a stain be?" ("Long Distance and Bleach"); as can the simple act of waking early: "I grasped sound like an outfielder leaping/to a high fly, then sank back into sleep/empty-handed[,]" ("A Sliver of Dawn").
Sometimes, unexpectedly, Bartlett does the opposite, turning the magnificent into the mundane, as in "A Distant Stream or Madonna Mountain": "Thirsty, I say I hear/a distant stream - you say the sound/comes from your backpack, water/splashing inside your canteen."
Although some of the pieces can seem rushed and almost read more like prose than poetry, the poems seldom fail to thrill in some way. Many of them have been revised for this collection and the book has been published simultaneously in the UK.