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Poetry Week: Cameron Anstee’s voyage of discovery

By Sanita Fejzić on March 27, 2015


Ottawa-based Apt. 9 Press published this past fall Five, a poetry collection by five different poets. With the start of VERSeFest this week, we thought this would be a great opportunity to profile each of the writers featured in this poetry collection.  Today we conclude our look at all five wordsmiths by reviewing the work of Cameron Anstee, the founder of Apt. 9 press.  (See part 1part 2part 3 and part 4 of this series of five profiles).

Cameron Anstee lives and writes in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press and is pursuing a PhD studying Canadian literature at the University of Ottawa.  He has published chapbooks with The Emergency Response Unit (Toronto), above/ground press (Ottawa), and In/Words (Ottawa).

Consider Each Possibility is forthcoming from Baseline Press (London) in Fall 2015.  He is also the editor of The Collected Poems of William Hawkins (Chaudiere Books, 2015) and has published scholarly articles in Amodern and Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews.

Books and bookshelves are an overarching motif for Anstee.  Symbolically, they stand for the material manifestations of knowledge and wisdom.  They contain words.  They are also the container of the intellect, the creative mind.  Open books, or as in the poem “Late January,” unread books, stand in for learning and the spirit that seeks wisdom through language.

“Late January,” is particularly appealing to me, and not only because I am reading Five in the dead of winter, but because of its subtle resonance with Jesslyn Delia Smith’s obsession with the image of home in relation to someone’s absence.  Here, home is an expansive term, going from the house to the city:

Cameron Anstee

Cameron Anstee

            I miss everyone who leaves this city
            and some who remain
            our house is enormous with your absence
            our house is enormous with your return
            the heart gapes at the processes of living
            our footing is terrible; we will arrive late, and exhausted
           but we will arrive

The line “the heart gapes at the processes of living” is given its own stanza, making it central in meaning even if it physically appears near the end of the poem.  The verb “gape,” is immensely powerful here, the sense of a grand opening at the mechanisms, movements and workings of living.  There is so much action in this one line whose image, to look at life through the eyes of the heart, has the effect of slowing everything down.

Anstee’s longest poem, and the one that marked me most in this collection, is titled, “The House.” It opens with “the house is built now from / cats and books and inherited furniture” tying it thematically to “Late January,” even if branching into completely different territory.

Personified and repeated in every single stanza, the house remembers, is a mirror, whispers, waits, and is many, many wonderful and original images and metaphors.  A few of my favourites include: “the house gives up atoms uncomplainingly / when we clean,” “the house is not a word in a foreign language / but a foreign word in this language,” and “the house is limited only by our capacity to imagine it differently.”  This last line is a fresh echo of Proust’s, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”