Carmine Starnino,
With English Subtitles
(Gaspereau, 2004)

Canadian poet Carmine Starnino carries some strong credentials. A nominee for the QSPELL A.M. Klein Prize for his first collection, The New World, and a winner of the Canadian Authors Association Prize for his second, he has not lacked for attention. One reason he's received all of that notice has to be his range. He's at home with both lyric and narrative poems, both objective and subjective approaches and can write a good poem about just about anything. I'd have to say that his is the best poem about a winepress I've ever encountered.

In this collection, he lets his humor come through more than he has previously. Here are a few lines from one of his Worst-Case Scenario Poems, "How to Escape From a Car Hanging Over the Edge of a Cliff":

The thing to avoid is a front-row view
of your care taking a rude, impromptu
header into the stones below. So, nice
and slow, ease away from the wheel.

The everyday language of the poem, the objective voice of an unseen expert, a professor of car disaster, creates a smile, while the use of the beautifully chosen single word, "rude," elevates the poem. It's a nice piece of work. He also teaches us such lessons as how to find water on a desert island and to survive a volcanic eruption.

I've always thought poetry should be fun. Evidently, Starnino does too. He's not simply a humorist, however. He's also a solid and careful observer, capable of capturing a sight or sound in just the right comparison:

Each morning a birdcall
like a typewriter's clatter,
a constant gunfire-chatter of keys

And he can see the deeper meaning in the routine, like a TV newscast. In "Accident," the speaker leaves his study after a big argument with his wife and catches a piece about a serious traffic accident on the news. He recognizes that his domestic life is just fine -- he has fidelity, loyalty and trust -- and imagines a wife answering the phone this morning...

...expecting one more
routine reassurance of one more safe
arrival and is instead sent crumpling
to the kitchen floor....

With Starnino, you don't know what you're going to get from page to page but you can be assured that whatever it is, it will be worth discovering.

by Michael Scott Cain
24 February 2007

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