“The New Wascana Anthology: Poetry, Fiction, and Critical Prose”
Edited by Medrie Purdham and Michael Trussler
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$49.95 ISBN 978-0-88977
I've said it before: the beauty of an anthology – and particularly a multi-genre example, like the The New Wascana Anthology, is that readers can sample from a veritable banquet of hand-picked work. This book represents a “best of” combination of two earlier “Wascana” anthologies (poetry and short fiction), plus other important and entertaining work. Editors Merie Purdham and Michael Trussler’s intent was “to preserve the strengths of the earlier anthologies” and “add a variety of new selections to make a textbook that would be especially amenable to the twenty-first-century classroom.”
Within these 551 pages you’ll discover popular works from the canon (American, British, and Canadian) sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with pieces by contemporary Canadians, including many of Saskatchewan’s finest (current or former residents), including Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Gerald Hill, Karen Solie, and newcomer Cassidy McFadzean, b. 1989. You may find yourself remembering poetic lines from Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Dickinson, and then be pleased to shake the metaphorical hand of contemporary short story writers like Eden Robinson, Dianne Warren, Rohinton Mistry, Alexander MacLeod (his “Miracle Mile” is placed next to his father Alistair’s Macleod’s evocative east coast tale “The Boat”), and Richard Ford.
Many will be familiar with Frost’s line “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” or Christopher Marlowe’s “Come live with me, and be my love”. To read these again and recall the sentiment and lilt of the words was, for me, a touchstone, connecting me to the first time I read these poems in university classes. I’m all for nostalgia, but what excited much more was to be introduced to writers I’d known of but not yet read.
The aforementioned Alexander MacLeod delivers a compelling story about the stress suffered by professional runners. The narrator muses: “If I ever have a kid, I think I’ll them [sic] participate in the grade-school track meets when they’re little, but that’s it.” He continues: “ … because it never gets better than that.” I adore the long, visceral paragraph this is pulled from, which ends thus: “Maybe the newspaper takes a picture, you and the red-haired girl, standing on the top step of a plywood podium, holding all your first-place ribbons in the middle of a weedy field while all the dandelions are blowing their fuzzy heads off.” Yes!
Sherman Alexie’s “The Approximate Size of My Favourite Tumour” was hilarious, sad, and relatable, and had me racing to my computer to find out more about this award-winning Seattle writer. This is the true beauty of anthologies: they introduce.
The critical prose section includes five entries, most with an ecological bent. Trevor Herriot discusses Sprague’s pipits and chestnut-collared longspurs, and Barbara Kingsolver beachcombs with a daughter while meditating on our misdirected hunger “to possess all things bright and beautiful.”
One certainly needn’t be a student to appreciate this eclectic collection.
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