Charmaine Cadeau, Placeholder

2013, Brick Books, London ON

$20, 978-1-926829-81-4, 70 pages

reviewed by rob mclennan




Close your eyes. The first day of winter,

smoke knitted to wool and leaning at the hip

a cord of wood creaking out the last of its green.

Snow ash wheeling, book pages

born into moths, a hungry alphabet.


Against the frosted glass,

press your hand.

Brittle grass heaves in places, a sleeping

flock of geese, the field all

pencil lines, here and here



Watch the shifting of an empty room

as you enter—or, from your lungs

blow out the perfect

door, white against the house—


The way it really begins.

On the windowsill, seven dead bees,

wings tied prettily back: fists of air

hardened off.


I’m intrigued by Charmaine Cadeau’s second trade poetry collection, Placeholder (London ON: Brick Books, 2013), following up her What You Used To Wear (Fredericton NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2004). Cadeau’s Placeholder is a collection of expansive, unexpected lyric poems, composed upon, as the back cover claims, “shifting terrain.” A large part of Cadeau’s terrain is structural, shifting from tight lyric couplets to the prose poem, a clipped and considered sense of the poetic line that reveals carefully, just short of giving everything away. Some of the prose poems in the collection, such as “What was said,” are conversational in tone, a sweep of a single breath, one that nearly leaves one breathless:


What was said


Maybe to understand this story, you’d have to know something about my brother like that he’s stoic but unpredictable so when I was in the kitchen washing dishes and we were talking on the phone and I asked if he’s going to tie the knot, he said after the restaurant they were standing in snow turning to slop on the street, ring hot in his mitt, and I say, ‘So?’ Not in a so-what sort of way but more like how a champagne cork pops. As he mumbled on, I pictured him rocketing off the ground, alley-ooping in a ninja-meets-superhero version of how he thought he’d grow up when we were young enough to play on the wood floor and not notice how hard it was. Then he said it again, louder for me to catch his drift, ‘So she left.’ She left.


I always wonder: to write poems with such narrative force, why choose the forms of poetry over, say, very short fiction? Still. In a series of searing portraits, even subjects considered cliché in Canadian poetry, such as the dominance of the searing cold winter and annual snow are given a slight twist, composing a perspective of subtle and unexpected beauty, as she opens the poem “Smugglers”:


Thick snow-blankets fall intact from March

roofs: that sound of being

carried off.


Moving, a few lines further, to:


Her far-flung love, more skipping

stone than net.








Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). The Uncertainty Principle: stories, is scheduled to appear in spring 2014. An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( 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