LeBlanc, Curtis. Little Wild. Nightwood Editions, 2018.
Reviewed by Andrew W. French
In Little Wild, Curtis LeBlanc juxtaposes masculinity against the backdrop of contemporary Canada, illuminating its toxicity when characterized as essential to the development of one’s identity in our society. A collection exhibiting the poet’s masterful ability to harness familiar language as a way to address difficult subject matter, the book stands as a record of the difficulties that accompany Canadian adolescence, particularly discussing substance abuse and mental health issues.
The reader quickly learns that the innocence implied by the book’s rather simple white cover ends at the table of contents, with “A Letter from Scandinavia” setting the dark atmosphere that is reinforced by the rest of the text. LeBlanc’s personal tone renders the grim subject matter he explores in his poetry accessible, though, making one feel as if the events composing the poems are being recounted to them by a close friend. Composed both in and by the unsavoury moments his poems inhabit, LeBlanc acts as an experienced Virgil who leads his reader through the various Infernos in Little Wild with incredible closeness that points readers to question grand concepts.
Despite addressing themes that repel favourable reminiscence, LeBlanc manages to paint his interrogation and recollection of a childhood infected by toxic masculinity as nostalgic throughout Little Wild. Whether it be “water-thin hot chocolates” (“Akinsdale Arena” 28) or one’s “first cough of kokanee” (“Folded Up Like a Coward on the Night of the Dance” 23), LeBlanc returns to times of struggle with an underlying fondness, reminding us that it is from the darkest depths that we emerge the strongest.
This nostalgia, though, later becomes a device that allows LeBlanc to attach the reader to the subjects of poems in the collection before stunning them with final lines that cast the poem before them in a darker light. Such an employment of nostalgia is exhibited by “Blood in a Place I Could Not Yet Understand,” in which LeBlanc recalls innocently playing “GI Joe beneath the weevil-chewed spruce” among other pure moments shared with a child named Paul, before concluding the poem by referencing Paul’s matured corpse “spread / like discarded clothing in the concrete basin” following his overdose (“Blood in a Place I Could Not Yet Understand” 13). LeBlanc’s ability to bring his readers to both significant conclusions and sites of immense affectual experience in this way is remarkable, and acts as the most valuable point in his work.
While human and animal subjects of poems in Little Wild are often sources of difficulty for the speakers of those pieces, many of the texts composing the collection express an enjoyable rivalry with nature that acts as another source of resistance to adolescent. Whether it be water that seeks to “play its tricks” (“Another Thing Entirely” 37) or a winter that is “nearly permanent” (“Christmas Morning, Boundary Bay” 74), LeBlanc frequently characterizes the natural world as a rival that attempts to inhibit one’s growth. While nature often provides resistance to maturation in the collection in this way, it is because the subjects of Little Wild spent their formative years “Forced outdoors by [their] fathers and mothers, / [they] learned to forget each other and be alone,” branding the challenges presented by the outdoors as a catalyst for personal growth (“Sonnet for the Driveways of our Childish Years” 25).
Though the moments of happiness experienced while reading Little Wild are far from permanent, LeBlanc’s ability to approach difficult situations in a way that evokes both darkness and nostalgia in the reader effectively encapsulates the experience of the speakers of the poems in the collection. This is a marvelous little book composed of relatable pieces, one that challenges the reader to rethink the purity of adolescence, and begs them to reexperience the feelings that come with it at the same time.
Andrew W. French is a poet, and MA Candidate in the department of English at the University of British Columbia. His poems have previously appeared in a number of journals across North America and the United Kingdom, including Snapdragon, The Slippery Elm, Cascadia Rising, Symposium, and The Mystic Blue Review, among others.