Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Monkey Ranch

Monkey Ranch

Monkey Ranch / Julie Bruck
London, ON: Brick Books, c2012.
84 p.

This week, the Governor General's Award: Poetry (English) was won by Julie Bruck, for this collection. I've had this book for quite some time, and just realized I've never talked about it on this blog.

The cover is so striking it's hard to ignore this one**. And you'd be well advised not to ignore it, as it is full of striking poetry, words that evoke places, emotions, people, strongly and memorably. Bruck engages with both small, enclosed and domestic happenings and wider ranging, international settings and incidents. Her vision incorporates it all.

I love her style: it's not self-referential crazy wordplay nor does she use deliberately confusing techniques. Her writing is straightforward, calm and conversational, but her mastery of this style allows her to express sharp opinions, deep insights and  clear characterizations. I suppose it is simply my kind of poetry. I enjoyed the stories she was telling through these poems, and felt as if I was overhearing or perhaps catching an unexpected glimpse of other lives while reading.

Hearing about her win today inspired me to look back to see if I'd already mentioned this book (no) and then to pick it up and read through it again. Still wonderful! I have a few that particularly spoke to me but they all had some hook that caught me and kept me reading. One that really resonated with me was a brief poem called "How to be alone" -- in it, a baby is being put to bed and encouraged to sleep. The line that jumped out was some advice from their parenting book, suggesting they tell the child "there is no more today". Bruck catches the existential trauma in that phrase and turns it into this brief but powerful poem, a recognition and expression of an apparently mundane moment turned immensely meaningful.

But this is one collection from which I can't really pick out a favourite, as there are so many outstanding choices. I'm not exaggerating or getting fan-girlish -- there really are few disappointments here. It's clear that she is an accomplished poet with an eye for the small, telling detail in everyday life and in the larger sphere as well. Her win at the GGs was very well deserved. This is a satisfying, lovely book for so many reasons.

Brick Books has a lot of great links to follow from this book's product page; interviews with the author, readings, reviews, some poems to whet your appetite, and more. Take a look to explore further! I'm sharing their youtube recording of Julie Bruck reading from this collection below, as well.

**a note on the cover art, from Brick Books:

The cover painting is a detail from Cookie...waiting, by Donald Roller Wilson. More of DRW’s work can be seen at By generous permission of both the artist, and the collection of Patricia Altschul.


  1. Oh, wow! I followed the links. Excellent poems. Thank you so much - this is one I'm buying.

  2. Barb, I hope you'll enjoy it. It's one I know I'll be able to reread with pleasure ~ hope you will too!

  3. I am trying to branch out in poetry more. Thanks for this post!

  4. Kailana -- you should definitely Branch Out with these monkeys! (sorry - couldn't resist!!)

  5. Nice review and I'll try to check this collection out. I'm going to hijack this thread and recommend two other books by Canadian poets -- Mortal Arguments by Sue Sinclair (also from Brick) and In Cars by Kimmy Beach (Turnstone Press).

  6. Eric P - thanks for the recs - I know the Sue Sinclair but not the other one. Will have to search it out!


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