Line: Kevin Shaw

From my “The Pleasures of Complexity: Kevin Shaw’s Smaller Hours(Goose Lane Editions, 2017), published in The Antigonish Review 192, Winter 2018

It was a lucky accident online, when I chanced upon the winning entry in the 2016 Prism International poetry competition. I was impressed with the sophistication of the writing. No wonder Kevin Shaw had already been published in a number of Canada’s top literary magazines, and also had won Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2015 Poem of the Year contest. With such credentials, when his first book-length collection appeared from icehouse poetry [Goose Lane Editions], it sounded like a promising read.…

...Lately I have been more and more irritated by published poems that stutter along or lurch forward on jarring overdoses of arbitrary enjambment. Instead, Shaw has a feel for the integrity of the line. When he does choose to enjamb, the line does not dangle on some pointless preposition or indefinite article, but ends firmly, on a word whose significance is heightened by the break; for example, “We walk up Dundas Street / trading directions instead of names, the vague / pre-dawn disclosure.”

Second, the lines are musical. Not only is there an underlying rhythm, but word choices are rich in assonance, such as the repeated ‘a’ sounds in “We trace the last of the high-water mark”, or the light ‘i’ sounds of “the end of our invisible ink and look for lifts”. Near rhyme also echoes throughout the poem, as in “ ‘&Sons’ is all that’s left of the old sign / as closing time drains the gay bar”, and in “the empty bed a sunken ship. The river has fallen / and I too want to be swept, the era’s easy deviant”. What a pleasure for the ear. These are lines that can be enjoyed both listened to aloud and heard inside one’s own head.