Friday, July 1, 2022

rob mclennan : Tolstoy Killed Anna Karenina, by Dara Barrois/Dixon

Tolstoy Killed Anna Karenina, Dara Barrois/Dixon
Wave Books, 2022





The latest collection from Massachusetts poet and editor Dara Barrois/Dixon, formerly known as Dara Wier, is Tolstoy Killed Anna Karenina. Set in three sections of short poems, Barrois/Dixon writes with a remarkable clarity of lyric and emotional purpose, utilizing the lyric as a means through which to examine and re-examine observation and critical thought, writing out the humanity of our concerns and hopes, and the possibilities within. Included in the opening section, the poem “Credits,” for example, seems to show Barrois/Dixon reminding herself, perhaps, of a list of influences, offering “I took what I could take / from a Sappho of my own feelings // and this cold stare I took from her friend / Shakespeare // who I found to be also a friend always with words / to spare it is said he used over 12,899 of them” to, further on, “and I took the souls of animals from John Clare // and from Mary Shelley I took to understand / a creator’s responsibility to what she creates // I took to understand what’s created / ought to be loved not abandoned // all along I took what I could / and I gave it away [.]” She writes of power structures and influence, working an examination of what she has learned so far, perhaps as a jumping-point from which to go further, as the seven-page poem ends:

I took a long time to understand
how much power lies in

giving and taking a life
all the while judging its value

it took some time before I found
what Flaubert does to Emma Bovary

no different from what Tolstoy
does to Anna Karenina

what I left I could not have taken
I left it for others for their own sakes

I took without asking
when I understood asking would get me nowhere

I took to whispers and secrets
I took to hiding in the folds of shadows

I took to it the way a newborn camel
takes to its mother’s side

Barrois/Dixon composes her poems connecting narrative point to narrative point, at once a careful, slow meandering, but one that accumulates into hybrid theses, writing on gender, power, deception, theft and lies, and literature. The poems in this collection examine power structures, as well as what is gained, given and taken through the process of literature, both as reader and practitioner, with ideas occasionally suggesting as proxy for living and being in the world. She examines language, literature and being, and our relationships with each, including the nebulousness and realities of Anna Karenina, killed in her namesake novel (1878) through the fictions of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). As her “NOTES AND EVIDENCE” at the end of the collection adds: “Concerning the woman Tolstoy named Anna Karenina and what made her maker make her for obliteration, as fate and words pretend she kills herself rather than be her maker’s victim, I’m thinking about what it means when someone calls something a tragedy when in fact it amounts to a crime.” Barrois/Dixon offers critique on the nature of violence and victims. As the opening poem, “IF YOU ARE LUCKY,” begins: “The same person will fall in love with you / over & over & over & over again & again // if you are lucky, if your luck holds out / over & over the same one will fall out of love with you // in order to fall back in / it is an excruciating process nonetheless it is necessary // you will need to be prepared to recognize / someone’s love for you // as well as be prepared to follow it / as it wanes and waxes [.]”









Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles include the poetry collection the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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