Flux is everything a significant debut should be--the arrival of a fresh, confident voice with an extraordinary range of form, direction and style.
From a sequence that captures the art and vocabulary of commercial fishing with careful precision, Denham bursts into a free-flowing and varied narrative based on the angst-ridden and picaresque life of a hitchhiking, cigarette-scrounging West Coast university student. Between these poles, Flux draws on Denham's broad palette of expression to evoke the various shades of urban life: house fires, street life, garbage strikes, disturbing and life-affirming revelations of young love, and friends and relatives possessed by drugs, child abuse and suicide.
All of this leads to "Two Waters," Denham's brilliant long poem painstakingly laying out the natural beauty and geography of the small coastal town he grew up in and its transformation into "Memories rippling/ On the periphery of vision between clean new buildings . . . Stripmalls. Traffic. Suburbia's/ Low-swell panic moving in . . ."
Joe Denham is the author of four collections of poetry, including Regeneration Machine (Nightwood Editions, 2015), which won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. Denham is also the author of a novel, The Year of Broken Glass. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets (Persea Books, 2005) as well as Spindrift (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017). He lives with his wife and two children in Halfmoon Bay, BC.
Read an Excerpt
I etch ephemeral sketches in flat, black water, swirling the pike pole like a sparkler wand, the steel spear tip igniting fairy-dust krill as we drift in to haul up our catch. An industrial gramophone, the hauler churns a music of creak and moan over the rumbling whine of diesel and hydraulics, the echo of our exhaustion. We sit astride the gunwale, hunched and awing at the swooping arc of green the line bends below the surface, tugging the boat over the set - till traps stream like marine comets emerging from the depths in a burst of glow and morphing back to bare utility whatever beauty we've begun to imagine.
Black mesh torn by the rock shelf's clinging resistance, its gnarled-tooth gnawing, this trap's become a sieve all but octopus, Dungeness and dogfish slip through. Between strings I take the mending needle spooled with green twine, stitch the gaps the way my skipper sealed the gash in his own palm when a hook embedded in the line hauled through his hand and ripped it open. Everything out here is sharp-edged, broken. Half our time working with holes we've no time to mend. I take each spare moment to tie frayed ends: reef for tension, knot the twine, and cinch down tight.
It was December. I'd never seen a sub-zero winter. I must have been struck by the absence of green, spindly trees thrusting branches of nothing up towards thin overcast: a mirror
image of the snowed plain, trackless, without frame. I can't say why it was I left the contour of my huddled family watching father lift a frozen coyote from steel jaws
and wandered into that veiled expanse -
Nor do I recall the crack as frail ice splintered beneath my feet, or the gust of awareness that rises when life turns precarious -
just the plow of my quickened legs through the snow, crust rasping against my knees, and the chorus of cleft voices rising to the fore calling me back to the familiar shore.
With a lyric intensity refreshingly free of pop pyrotechnics Joe Denham's poems pull compelling music from work, love and grief. Immersed in urban and rural angst, in natural splendour and a desperate resource economy, his resources are self-awareness, imagistic integrity and an emerging grace note of personal responsibility, of sympathy, a premonition of homecoming. -John Pass
Denham writes of the hydraulic details of work, memory's second-guesses and aching knots, the itch of passing time, out of a solitude both fragile and resolute. His poems live here in a state of heads-upwide awake, eyes open. -Karen Solie