Henry Pepper.


128 pages
ISBN 978-1-55420-034-4
DDC C811'.6





Reviewed by Allison Sivak

Allison Sivak is a librarian in the Science and Technology Library at
the University of Alberta.


This book is a series of experimental poems that follow the days of Henry Pepper, a homeless man who observes his environment of back alleys and marginal hotels. Pepper’s area spans 11 streets in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. He considers the details of telephone poles, garbage, electricity metres, and the other residents around him.


The poems shift between the disjointed narration close to his own voice and a more omniscient narrator who gives a larger view of the scenes. The movement between the two works, giving the narrative enough variation between humour, gritty detail, and surreal confusion to sustain interest and avoid tedium.


I found my first reading to be slow, but on the second reading, the poems came together for me, and I saw a more complete story rather than a series of discrete scenes. There are a few small bumps in the text: some misspellings, as well as a misquote on the cover from the poems. The text’s footnotes seem cryptic and superfluous. I did feel slightly uncomfortable about the fact that other characters are more caricatures than people, unlike the protagonist; however, I could accept that this may be the author’s method of showing the alienation inherent in extreme poverty.


The language of the poems twists in interesting ways, with little conventional “beauty,” although some of the writing is quite beautifully raw: “My mind’s eye squeezed into this / meat mask?” Not a simple read, but a worthwhile one.


Lukyn, Justin., “Henry Pepper.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28694.