Being Complicit with Adam Sol: M&S launch of the poetry collection Complicity

Book launch flyer for Complicity by Adam SolBecause I was previously a McClelland & Stewart editorial intern, I was more than happy to have the opportunity to celebrate one of their most recent books, which also happens to be a very engaging collection of poetry. Complicity is, and M&S describes this perfectly, “intimate and lyrical, experimental and outlandish.”

Initially, I was afraid I was going to be late. The event was being held all the way up on Danforth in a little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub called The Dora Keogh Pub. I couldn’t think of a better location though; it was had a down-to-earth vibe and was quaint to behold. I immediately found Ellen Seligman (she is definitely not hard to miss in a crowd—her sheer magnificence as a major leader in Canadian publishing literally radiates around her like a halo). I also saw some other M&S and Random House friends from my brief interlude into the awe-inspiring conglomerate that is Penguin Random House. I caught up with Val Capuani, RHC’s dedicated production coordinator, who is great to work with, especially at volunteer events. She definitely brings the fun. However, I was most grateful to see Anita Chong, who has been a positive influence in my life since my publishing career in the big, bad city took off. Her passion for everything she does and for all the authors she works with is inspirational and without knowing it, she became my coach and mentor throughout my internship and even after the fact. I would not be where I am today without her enduring encouragement and thoughtful advice.

Complicity by Adam Sol book launchI also became acquainted with some great new faces with amazing lives and careers, however, I’m terrible at names, and I therefore wouldn’t be able to tell you who they were. I can tell you that I did hear about a great event called Pongapalooza held at SPiN in support of First Book Canada where thirty-two ping pong teams will battle it out for the 2014 Scotiabank  Pongapalooza Cup. To find out about the event and the cause you can click here, and the event also has its own twitter page @Pongapalooza. I for one am hoping to check it out as it sounds like a great time for players and spectators alike, and it is kind of a publishing industry fiesta of sorts, which makes it even better (publishing people know how to party, if you don’t know that already).

Anyways, back to my main purpose for this post. After a fair bit of time to socialize, the introductions began. Ellen Seligman took the stage first, introducing M&S, its poetry program, and the star of the evening, Adam Sol. With already three other published poetry collections under his belt and a Trillium Book Award, he was a natural in front of an audience. He smiled,cracked a few jokes, and was an all around genuine people person.

the poet Adam Sol reading from his new collection ComplicityAdam read two of his poems from Complicity, and I loved the reactions that reverberated around the room from chuckles of amusement to murmurs of thoughtful agreement. It is amazing what poetry can accomplish in a lot less words than fiction or non-fiction. Adam’s new collection really challenges our perceptions of ourselves and our society and how we interact with it. There are so many hidden messages in each line, in each stanza, that I suggest you read his poems carefully and slowly or you might miss out on some of his ingenious comments that strike both a political and emotional chord.

I think Adam’s choice of poems for the evening were expertly chosen to represent Complicity, especially the poem “Engagement,” which is an incisive look at war and violence and how we are all complicit, those who take part and those who simply observe, and we are also sorely misguided by our assumptions. I can still hear Adam’s expressive tone as he read aloud, “It’s wrong . . . it will be wrong.” There is nothing like hearing the words the way the author wishes them to be heard. This is why book launches are so unique. By attending, you witness the purity of the written word spoken aloud the way the person who wrote it intended.

Mingling and socializing continued after the all too brief reading, although I was told that this is the “new kind of book launch,” as it leaves you wanting more. I have to agree, as I definitely want to delve further into this collection after only getting a taste with those two poems.

I was able to get my personal copy of Complicity signed by Adam later that evening. Anita introduced me to him as M&S’ previous editorial intern. I also told him that I had had the opportunity to see Complicity still in the editorial and typesetting stage, and that I loved how it had all come together so nicely.

In addition to providing me with his signature, Adam also left me a gratifying message: “For Dana — keep up the good work…” For someone where it is a constant struggle to make my mark in the competitive world of publishing (not so different form the life of an author, really), Adam’s words warmed my heart. Once a poet, always a poet (even his autograph says something deep).

signed copy of Complicity by Adam Sol

Even if you didn’t attend the book launch or didn’t know about it, you should definitely get to know Adam at least through his poetry. It will enrich your life and challenge your mind.

You can purchase a copy at McClelland & Stewart, Indigo, Amazon, or any independent bookstore.


Life after loss: A review of Wake by Anna Hope

Wake“Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequences or aftermath”

Wake by Anna Hope

London, post World War I, 1920. Three women, each marred by her own disparate loss, try to come to terms with what life after war really means.

Always a fan of historical fiction, I was immediately drawn to this book. On first impression, Wake‘s cover gives one the illusion that this book is a typical war love story. Wrong. Hope’s richly enthralling story is so much more than that, as it explores the complicated layers of human grief, casting a very real and honest light. The three women of the novel are all from different walks of life with different stories. Hettie is a young dance instructress at the Palais. Ready to start living again (she has lost her father to the Spanish flu and her brother to shell shock), Hettie can’t understand why the rest of London won’t move on with her. It is not until she meets a wealthy yet strange young man at an underground dance club that her eyes truly open to the often inconsolable scars left by the chaos and destruction of war and that, perhaps, it isn’t a door so easily closed. Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange coming into contact with thousands of men looking to claim benefits from mentally and physically debilitating wounds. Embittered by the loss of a lover, she has little empathy to offer them and looks to find comfort in the company of her brother. But her brother hasn’t been the same since his return from the front, and he may be just as lost as herself, if not more so. Finally, Ada is beset by visions of her son, convinced he is still alive without solid proof otherwise. As a result, she finds herself becoming further estranged from her husband.

Wake focuses on the emotional turmoil of these women’s lives while at the same time weaving in the journey of the Unknown Soldier, from his excavation in France to his arrival on Armistice Day to be entombed at Westminster Abbey. The brief interludes where the reader witnesses the body’s journey to London are stock full of symbolism, giving the reader a sense of the necessity for this healing act, to console and bring the people together again.

The book develops over a span of only five days, expertly braiding the women’s stories together, uniting them in a gradual revelation that is beautifully fulfilled by the end of the book, linking Evelyn’s brother to Ada’s son. Hope does fairly well in balancing her four interchanging plot lines. Evelyn and Ada are heartbreakingly, and sometimes brutally, real in grappling with their grief. Evelyn is not easy to love, and I often found myself put off by her abrupt manner and lack of sympathy for the plight of others, such as when a man in the office experiences “shell shock,” and she simply waits for the fit to pass without offering any sort of help. But that is also the point. Hope isn’t trying to make these characters one-dimensional or easy to love—they are complicated. Experiencing and dealing with loss is not an easy task and neither does it have one unanimous response, as we are all well aware of.

The one thing I find that Wake falls short on is its characterization of Hettie. Unfortunately, she is less compelling than Evelyn or Ada, possibly because of her disconnect with loss. I often found her falling into the role of a secondary character, especially after she meets Evelyn’s brother, Ed, who manages to “steal” the scene with his tortured mannerisms, plagued by memories of war. I definitely would have liked to see more of Hettie interacting with her own brother, which would have only helped to solidify the book’s predominant themes and allowed Hettie to have more of a voice. Aside from this slight lapse, Hope allows her characters to speak for themselves with engaging dialogue and indicative actions.

A brilliant debut, Wake is in the end well researched, vividly illustrating time and place for the reader. London is depicted as broken yet vibrant as people pick up the pieces and begin to allow themselves one dance or one fleeting smile. Hope offers no easy solutions in her book, but she does end with a hopeful promise of the human ability to “wake” in war’s aftermath and carry on.

I definitely recommend picking this book up. It has the potential to resonate with its readers and stay with them long after the last breath-taking sentence, which leaves you to your own conclusions of what will become of these true-to-life women.

5 out of 5 book thumbs up


Review copy provided to me by McClelland & Stewart

Wake by Anna Hope, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart,  © 2014

Available at McClelland & Stewart, Amazon, Indigo, and independent bookstores everywhere February 11, 2014.