Review: Night Gears by Bren Simmers

Wednesday, 18 May 2011
As I make this switch to Blogger, I will repost a handful of the reviews from my Wordpress site. This review was originally published in H Magazine.

In Bren Simmer’s impressive debut collection of poetry, Night Gears, ravens don’t just fly — they “twirl like paper airplanes.” Evening doesn’t just fall, it “approaches like a timid suitor.” And a spider isn’t just spinning her web, she is “darning” it.

These are just a few examples of Simmers’ obvious flair for descriptive language, which she skilfully uses to make the most ordinary of situations seem extraordinary. Night Gears pays tribute to the simplest occurrences of life, like “licking peanut butter off a spoon, CBC news, clean sheets, [and] dew.” Even the “fat fragile bodies” of bugs with “stained glass wings,” caught quivering in window frames seem beautiful in Simmers’ colourful language.

It’s no surprise that Simmers’ attention to detail seems most acute when writing about nature; She is a park interpreter in Vancouver with an obvious love of nature. Readers can’t help but visualize her muses, whether they are tiny insects or a gentle giant, like a thousand-pound moose. “Still, haunting creature, its silver-tipped whithers, last remnant of a winter coat,” she writes of the creature that is “listening at the edge of the road.”

Simmers’ poetry has been published in journals across the country. She is also the winner of the Arc Poem of the Year Award and she was shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award.

The pictures Simmers artfully paints with her words are not always rural, rather she excels at blending nature with modernity, the two often clashing. Tranquil scenes are interrupted by the growing realities of rural life — “Dump trucks lumber up the street, shrug dirt from their humped backs. Workers in reflective orange spacesuits emerge from underground bunkers to lunch in the loose gravel,” she writes in her poem “Road Work,” which pays homage to the roots of trees that have been replaced by “the labyrinth of pipes and cement, which we once took for solid earth.”

Simmers’ poems land readers in uninspiring offices and the small houses and buildings that dot small towns, however, it is her enthusiasm for nature that is most infectious. Among the best examples of this is “Northern Postcards,” a 20-page poem that makes up the last of the book’s four sections. Here, Simmers takes readers on a memorable road trip in the Yukon, making it nearly impossible to not want to jump in a car and drive across unfamiliar and often-desolate land.

Bren Simmers read from Night Gears on Sunday, December 5 as part of the Lit Live Reading Series at The Sky Dragon Centre. Night Gears was published by Hamilton publisher Wolsak and Wynn in September.

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