Bird Tracks on Hard Snow


61 pages
ISBN 1-55022-222-8
DDC C811'.54






Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Only one of the poems in this book extends beyond a single page—and
the apparent exception is a grouping of four “Fall Leaf Poems.”
Categorists will call Nelson Ball either an imagist or a minimalist;
moreover, he is that officially unfashionable being, a nature poet. Bird
Tracks on Hard Snow takes us through the span of the seasons from winter
to winter, and although a few poems refer to people (e.g., “To
Barbara”), most focus on birds, trees, weather, landscape.

A Ball poem, which need be no more than five words long, is invariably
inventive in perspective, in metaphor, and often in sound (where rhymes
and half-rhymes sidle up on the reader): “Overcast / today // no sign
of the sun / the whole sky / a light grey // almost / white.” Simple
but not simplistic; direct but not artless.

Seemingly effortless, such poems in fact require considerable skill. At
the same time, their self-appointed limitations can become oppressive,
and I found that I enjoyed the book more if I dipped into it instead of
steadfastly reading it through. Miniatures are exquisite in small doses.
This is a short and pleasurable book that achieves its modest
intentions. Ball is a genuine if minor poet who has mastered his craft.


Ball, Nelson., “Bird Tracks on Hard Snow,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,