Friday, June 24, 2022

Book Review: David Haskins’ Blood Rises

Title: Blood Rises
Author: David Haskins
Publisher: Guernica Editions
Publication Date: 2020

Just over two weeks ago, I learned that local poet Dave Haskins had passed away.

Though I’d only met Haskins only a handful of times, he and his work made a lasting impression on me. Poetry is a precise art. There are no two-ways about it. The poet must craft their use of words, sometimes a single word, with exact certainty while stripping away both frivolity or fluff. Likewise, poetry demands a kind of precision from those who read it. The word choices are so intentional, the images conjured so focused, that to try and read it in distraction does the poet a severe injustice. Which, perhaps, is why I have struggled to put down in my own words the kind of power to be found in Haskin’s most recent and, indeed, his final work of poetry, Blood Rises.

In reading this substantial collection, the first thing that stands out is the current of pain that Haskins touches upon in almost all of the 70+ poems. That isn’t to say that the work is morose or depressing. There is an understanding that pain is like all other physical sensations; it’s an extricable extension of the body and a vital reminder of life as an act of living. This symbolism of pain and its connection to the human form goes beyond the title which, itself, conjures images of wounds bleeding and skin bruising. The chapter titles, eight in total, all evoke a sense of a life lived with pain as a companion: where the needle stops, the wild among us, who now can make a nail from the earth, naked again he writes, and keening calls.

Haskins executes his craft with a deft hand and Blood Rises never shies away from using the medium to tackle hard ideas and difficult topics. Many of the poems in this collection swirl around issues of political import with an unflinching and critical eye. From the opening lines of On Voting Liberal (It’s all about balance / not slipping off the rails) to the brutal imagery of political violence in Disposition (Youtube slideshow / a man’s naked body is / trussed and hogtied) to climate change in Spring Rain (please be advised it’s not safe to rebuild here / the climate is changing with every election) and the plight of Indigenous people in Resilience (that blows the pox into every eye / topples totems, turns villages to burial grounds), Haskins turns a piercing eye to worldly issues while firmly keeping the material grounded in language that is both immediate and visceral. 

But Haskins’ most powerful verses are reserved for his devastating and multifaceted reflections about death. This is especially true for the definition of endings in the arena of love and marriage. From the complementary pair of poems entitled The Death of Marriages (The marriages sprawl along the beach) and A Bitch of a Marriage (She’s quiet now, this old bitch of a marriage) to the pop culture tinged I Am Not Your Man (Before I was old, you didn’t ask me / how I felt about dying) to the heartrending Things I Do to Miss You (park on my side of the driveway / sleep on my side of the bed), the reader cannot help but feel the pull of finality coursing through Haskins’ words. Perhaps it is entirely fitting that Blood Rises ends with the mystic yet elegiac chapter Intihuatana dedicated to long dead memories of the Inca summoned by an ascent into Machu Picchu.

David Haskins was one of the first writers I met upon arriving in Hamilton over a decade ago. I vividly recall this first encounter, taking place on a cool evening at the site of what used to be Homegrown Hamilton. Haskins immediately struck me as an intensely curious and deeply thoughtful writer. A startlingly evocative collection of work, Blood Rises is a fitting capstone to the textured life and career of Haskins as one of Hamilton’s most accomplished poets and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Stephen Near
Stephen Near
Stephen Near is a freelance writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. He works at Mohawk and Humber College and is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Stephen's plays have been produced at the Hamilton Fringe Festival and Theatre Aquarius and he is completing his first fiction novel.

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