Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Penny Dreadful

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Penny Dreadful

Article excerpt

Shannon Stewart, Penny Dreadful (Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2008), 73pp. Paper. $16. ISBN 9781550652451.

Who could read past

headlines so obscene?

We stood in the shower

instead; keeping clean (p. 13)

In Penny Dreadful Vancouver poet Shannon Stewart draws parallels between tabloid headings about serial killer Robert Pickton and the brutal and sensationalist stories featured in nineteenth-century magazines known as 'Penny Dreadfuls'. She explores our relationship to the news ('that packet of horror that lands on our doorstep every morning', as she suggested in an interview for magazine Maisonneuve) through a series of poems, many of which feature real and fictional headlines for their titles. The above quotation comes from the third poem in the collection, the first of three that geographically locate reports about Pickton through their titles: 'West Coast Reduction LTD. 105 North Commercial Drive', 'Pickton Pig Farm 953 Dominion Avenue', and 'Piggy Palace Society of Good Times 2552 Burns Road'. The poem that follows, '63 Missing from the Low Track', places the missing women even closer - in the poet's home: 'I come home, after groceries and soccer practice / to uninvited guests'. Acknowledging her complicity in the women's fates, she describes how she gets rid of them:

I call a taxi, and ask dispatch how many taxis are needed

for 63 women. He wants to know if this is some kind

of riddle. Where are you going to? he asks Sounds like fun,

he says. Sounds like a real picnic. I tell the women

to stop what they are doing (p. 16)

Using simple language and striking wit, Stewart forces readers to examine their own role in the stories of the murdered and missing women, their own reactions to the lurid headlines. …

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