Slant Room, by Michael Eden Reynolds
Review by Lori A. May
I’m a sucker for minute details, for finding the poetic beat in the every day. Such opportunity is gently handed over when I first crack into Slant Room, a skin-tickling debut from Michael Eden Reynolds. The collection’s first poem alerts the reader to enliven the senses, peel back preconceived notions, and let poetic nature take its course:
“Spring Night in Caledon”
Spring comes up like an onion,
green from its winter heart.
Sharp scent carried on a whiff of dung.
It’s the night before garbage day,
warm wind stirring the frogs
into song, the highway noise
shushed. One bag of garbage
lies gutted in the ditch. One piece of trash
clatters along the drive.
The animal is nowhere to be seen –
the smell so ripe my eyes water.
I no longer know how I saw the world yesterday.
Just as we witness the speaker’s transformation from known to unknown and back again, we, the reader, should prepare for a series of unearthing experiences.
Perhaps it is Reynolds’s well-traveled youth that leads to such keen observation of space and place. Born and educated in Ontario before his move to the Yukon, Reynolds’s poems have sprinkled journals far and wide — Fiddlehead, Grain, ARC Magazine — and perhaps this is why his voice seems so familiar. Prior to his debut, he was already here, spread out lovingly on the pages among us.
This fine-tuned debut shares well-crafted sections highlighting a well-calibrated ear for sound, language, and movement. The earthy discoveries of the very first section, “Spare Room,” decode landscapes familiar and foreign, calm and territorial. The poet’s history across the map is clear, binding words to worlds, as we traverse the terrain in the “goosedown and wool” of “Atlantic Rain,” or feel the chilled penetration of “Ouimet Canyon” and long to know firsthand, the “Record time and temperature: / how many zeros will it hold?”
The page-turning series poems in “Migrations” begins with a prologue in the voice of swans, begging us, “do not not hear / this” as the world spins around us as a “rough mechanism, hinge and gear.”
Indeed, the voyage we take with Slant Room is at once all-too-real and starkly surreal, as the speaker in this second section affirms, “We cover great distance / not moving.” Reynolds takes us for the ride, the journey across sub-zero existence, then warms us with the “white mammoth” of the poem, “The Refrigerator,” a standout selection from the final section wherein the poet introduces us to the modest everyday paraphernalia of life: meat trays, pianos, eyeglasses, parking meters.
There is a sweet music to even the most bitter-cold phrases, with Reynolds turning phrases and breaking lines into magic. These poems are stories, experiences, other-skinned lives we fall into; and, as the child in “The Desk” begs of its speaker, we too demand of the poet, “Tell it / … tell it again,” as we long to cling to the spare spaces in Slant Room.