B.C.-based fisherman and timber framer Joe Denham caused a stir with his first poetry collection, Flux, in 2003. The book garnered considerable critical acclaim and Denham’s poems were widely anthologized. Even so, in a 2004 interview Denham intimated that his debut had been premature.
Six years after that brilliant but flawed first effort comes Windstorm, a collection at once tighter and more ambitious than Flux. The text accounts for a mere 48 pages (the rest being blank pages, section dividers, epigraphs, front matter, etc.) but is far from slight in scope. Rather than a collection of standalone lyrics, the five untitled sections spin an extended meditation on work, the environment, and humanity, on the sacred and the profane.
In many ways, Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is the presiding spirit of this book, both in terms of form – Denham favours exhilaratingly dense clusters of heavily stressed alliteration and rhyme – and philosophy, notwithstanding the fact that Denham is less than confident about his own lower-case deity: “Your best guess is as good and ridiculous / as the next, / as far as god goes. We’re all in the throes.”
Denham makes his living exploiting the resources of land and sea but is also keenly aware of “Earth stripped bare as unburied bone.” He weds the active to the contemplative and eschews pat moralizing and trendy poses, resulting in poetry complex enough to mirror the contradictions and ambivalences of life.
Throughout this collection, Denham evinces an awareness that solid craftsmanship is one possible antidote to conspicuous consumption and waste: “The hands that weave the rope are // resistance; the strands, the substance, are love.” One thing is for sure: this is no disposable book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.