80 pages
ISBN 1-55022-576-6
DDC C811'.54






Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


“What’s to be taken from / the lessons of the natural world?” asks
one of the poems in Ashland, Gil Adamson’s third book. The answer is
hard, and pretty well sums up the tone of the whole book: “Fear and a
pointless suffering.” These prose poems, poetic sequences, and various
lyrics all tend toward a biting rhetoric that assumes a world in which
“[t]he future seeps out of you like a cloud of flies,” and the past
isn’t any better.

Adamson has an ear for the phrase that nails a pessimistic totem to the
page: “The galaxies spin overhead, getting a bead on us all”;
“Dead men go along the road / in twos and threes, / waving goodbye
with their toes”; “We put guns to each others’ heads, / click down
on nothing, / and even this seems like a sign, / a message too simple to
be ignored.” In these and other poems, the implied narratives insist
that this is the way to see the world.

Adamson’s characters are violent, bitter, and lacking in hope, except
for the tall man in “Euphoria,” a prose poem sequence based on
conversations she had with her grandfather, who suffered from
tuberculosis. Here, even as the man battles nightmares, “one lung
pumping,” his character seeks strength and continuance. And there is a
kind of hope in the ending, despite the usual darkness: “We last
longer. The night opens its mouth, and we step in.”

Ashland is a tough book, but it offers a dark world brilliantly evoked
in sharp imagery and edgy rhythms. Gil Adamson writes the macabre with
an exact wit.


Adamson, Gil., “Ashland,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,