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Michael Dennis. Photo: Anvil Press.

Write On Ottawa: Low Centre of Gravity by Michael Dennis – poems with punch

By Rob Thomas on June 30, 2020


Low Centre of Gravity is such a fitting title for a book of poems by Michael Dennis. His poems don’t wear fancy ball gowns and you don’t need a secret decoder ring to appreciate their artistry. The poems tend to be agile little packets of muscle, which dance and weave and drawn you in until POW! They knock you on your butt in a dazzled fit of pathos, laughter, or both. They always punch above their weight and you never see the punch coming. They are the kind of poems on which you can see real human sweat glistening. Sometimes you can even smell it. There aren’t many poets whose book I would buy without kicking the tires. Dennis is certainly one of them.

Front cover of Low Centre of Gravity. Image: Anvil Press.

First off, the guy just cannot write a bad poem, and I mean that literally. Dennis seems to have truly mastered the self-deprecating failure poem. I mean those crafty little numbers in which an apologetic poet admits the poem being written isn’t all that hot and then somehow manages to parlay this into a positive. In Slam Dunk, for example, the poet drops you into his process. He has poured his morning into a poem, convinced the piece was on track for greatness, only to realize he has rehashed a popular movie plot. You don’t need to be a poet to feel that sucker punch. The ego swells, then deflates utterly.

There aren’t many poets whose book I would buy without kicking the tires. Dennis is certainly one of them.

Fans will recognize Dennis’s forte. He gathers the grit of day-to-day experience and makes that stuff sing, and it is never the simple or predictable stuff. In one case, the jumping-off point is the singular experience of seeing a bee poop mid-flight. In another, a love poem emerges from a dog attack. In Tom Thompson Shit in the Woods, the renowned painter becomes the frame for a myriad of small human moments—the stained hands of a railway worker and the struggle of an ocean crossing—which underlie the iconic ones, like so many black flies encrusted in Thompson’s thick brush strokes. This is Dennis’s standard MO. He grabs you with a gag line and then drops the weight of humanity on you.

If you are looking for a book that will dance and dazzle before knocking you on your butt? This is the one. Trust me.

Low Centre of Gravity by Michael Dennis is out now. Copies can be ordered from the publisher, Anvil Press, or local bookstores.