Review Excerpts

Reading the eighteen poems that comprise Stephen Bett's Our Own Stunned Heads induces a sensation that is not unlike careening down one of those corkscrew water slides. You find yourself gathering speed, somehow negotiating the well-banked corners, gasping at velocity attained on the straight stretches, and always, always fending off a deep-seated fear that this might be the time something goes wrong, this might be the time you don't make it before you arrive, triumphantly, at the end. What a ride!

― Linda Crosfield

Un/Wired is the 18th book of poetry by celebrated Canadian poet Stephen Bett.... This book is largely a satire on culture, a sendup of the common..., the unthinking, the state of the unconscious violence of the western world that feeds into the monied corporate elite.... Un/Wired breaks new ground, trashing sacred cows with a wink and a promise....

The poet plays with language, sometimes invents new words, tangles and repeats words, dangles words in escarpment, as event. Most of the poetry [consists of] short, tight sentences―minimalist―turning the words in on themselves with an edge of humor, a sawed-off shotgun delivery, a projection of the violent culture....

The book... is divided into four [sections]: "Pre-Wired," "Soft-Wired," "Hard-Wired" and "Un-Wired." Reading Un/Wired cover to cover, it starts slowly and builds to a crescendo, beginning with satire and then in the last [section] some love poetry that highlights... emotional violence....

A subtle, raw edge, jazz to jazz in the N.A. street. A fantastical work of post-modernist satire exposing the bones of the violent western malaise in an exciting evolution of the Beat tradition.

― Subterranean Blue Poetry

I do like this type of writing in The Gross and Fine Geography: New & Selected Poems, with its outcome of impropriety: the stumbling, reversals, jesting, equivocality, the wrong beat in the wrong place, the offbeat. As long as the image is diaphanous and the music upright, verbal grandiosity is never needed. The fissure attracts the curious more than the polished stone... From the sidewalk of matter (language) Bett journeys the way to the Divine, and what is divined is immateriality, that which comes betwixt breath and breath. Simply put, Bett is one heaven of a love poet. His poems are about love, the love of woman, the love of justice, the love of music, poetry, and art. He lifts the sidewalk up to the brink on a platform where few care to stand...

In, beneath, and above each single word and space, Stephen Bett's Selected Poems recalls the story of his experiences; his poems are diary entries, reworked transience. He sings, he screams, he doubts, he cries, he tears everything apart, and then glues the world back together, one piece at a time. From "too many maybes" we venture to something where "it's like the world turns in the sky." Matter mutates into Stephen Bett's jive.

― Antonio D'Alfonso, Pacific Rim Review of Books

At 180 pages and in the fluorescent coat of many colours―in this corner, author of 18 books and counting―Stephen Bett, linguistic gymnast and parable prognosticator. This is heavyweight stuff. These poems are the onslaught of a simply unrelenting force... You can't pin Bett down because he comes at you from all angles... [The opening] poem pretty much says it all about Stephen Bett's intentions...a statement of purpose writ large. Then Bett puts his foot down and steamrolls us through thirty-one years with his gargantuan and generous voice... [And he] knows how to be a sweetheart and a lovely jazz rat...

The Gross & Fine Geography: New & Selected Poems is a book worthy of all your attention.... Bett burns with the best. Grace, music and beauty along with a few moments of quiet desperation, The Gross & Fine Geography changes gears more than a few times and it is an exciting ride all the way through this rambling taster from Bett's previous books.

― Michael Dennis, Today's Book of Poetry

Stephen Bett's big, 178 page collection [The Gross & Fine Geography: New & Selected Poems] ... covers many years (starting with poems from 1983), and includes poems from over a dozen of his previous books. It's an impressive showcase of how Bett writes about human conundrums and modern life. The book's title with its multiple puns suggest a broad swath of possibilities --and that's what Bett gives us, using a wide variety of poetic techniques and an ironic, self-aware sense of humour....

Stephen Bett is a mature, experienced poet, who uses language in a wide variety of ways. He has serious things to say, but says them with a sharp wit. His poems deal with the contemporary. They are pertinent to the lives we live, and have much to offer. I am glad for the chance to review this collection and be introduced to his work.

E.E. Nobbs, The Poetry Shed

The Gross & Fine Geography, which starts with poems taken from Lucy Kent & other poems (1983), shows that [Stephen Bett's] work has indeed grown over the years. By the time the reader gets to the poems taken from Un/Wired (BlazeVOX Books, 2016) Bett has come a long way. His sureness with the modes of the older poets [Williams, Pound, Zukofsky, and the Don Allen anthology poets] who have inspired him is deft. It is this deftness that impresses. Bett's wit and playfulness with language stand out. I was often reminded of not just Kenneth Koch, but of Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, too. Those poets used longer lines than Bett does in his later work. His short line -- quite minimal, really -- reminds me more of both Creeley and Larry Eigner. Every word must be the truly correct word in a form that highlights each individual word... Indeed, the more recent work of Bett reminds me of Eigner's "A Gone" and "B" in the Allen anthology. And, in my view, Bett's latest poetry is much like Eigner's work in books like The World and Its Streets, Places, one of my best-loved books...

I do not wish the reader to think that Bett only reads American writers. He also admires Canadians like Louis Dudek, Ken Norris, and Phyllis Webb. Nonetheless, Bett's finest work seems to extend from the American poetic developments of the late 20th century. And I thought the finest poems in this "selected" were reprinted from Sound Off: a book of jazz (Thistledown, 2013). Bett really nails it in "Pat Metheny", capturing the "feel" of the guitarist's music. So too with another guitarist: Bill Frisell.

The deep richness of a poetic tradition always seems wonderful. While Bett and I share many of the same literary roots -- Pound, Williams, Olson, etc. -- our writing is quite different. This is because each poet takes a tradition and makes it his or her own. An example: the late, great Raymond Souster had his roots in the Pound-Williams-Olson tradition. So did Louis Dudek. But Souster, Dudek, and Bett are quite different poets. Perhaps the signal aspect of The Gross & Fine Geography is that Bett's book shows how one poet -- in this case a poet in British Columbia -- has extended modern and postmodern concepts into the 21st century.

― James Deahl

I love what Stephen Bett is doing with language in his latest opus, Those Godawful Streets of Man.... Bett's his own man here. He's absorbed the lessons of the Objectivists, Beats, Black Mountain, New York and San Francisco schools; the Canadian Tish poets' experiments with vernacular phonological phrasing in open form; the studious avoidance of the "burnished urn" Modernist reliance on myth, metaphor, and intellectual conceits, dense allusion, tight boxed containers.

Not that Bett's poems aren't marvelously allusive; the bric-à-brac of pop culture is all here: movies, cell phones, the Web, selfies, Tweets and all manner of squawks from the Interface. But there is nothing overtly confessional and the stitches and strophes are as comfortable and companionable as a Tetley Tea bag or new silk pyramid of the latest craft tea. The allusions are to pop culture events: post-modern texts, not obscure texts....

This is minimalism for readers who like their poems fat: rich, but sans impasto or ornament. A book of raw wire in the city: edgy, tense, sharp, angular, dangerous--in the electrified, computerized grids of cityscape we inhabit, and in the boxes we place each other in and peer out from... as we attempt to touch through wires and wireless interfaces, en face, live and in person in an age of celebrity cast-off culture and relationships.

At the heart of the book and appearing late in the accumulating narrative--the overall alienation we 21st-century zombie citizens feel facing globalization and its feral children--is the story of a dissolving relationship, the man too earnest and accepting; the woman raging and fading into madness. But nothing is cloying or mawkish or sentimental, or even confessional; instead we shift easily from a sort of Special Victims Unit episode of macro family skeleton news to deeply personal, eviscerating sorrow, with grace and elan.

Musically, rhythmically, the poet is adroit, fluid, as graceful as Sonny Rollins on a good day. You can feel those tight turns, drops, and ascents as you might on a carnival ride; Bett doesn't waste a word, but pastes you to the back of your vernacular cage. You are in for the ride.

Line for line, strophe for strophe, image for image, Stephen Bett's latest delivers the news, along with the tart taste of jazz and blues.

― Richard Stevenson, Pacific Rim Review of Books

In Stephen Bett's book Those Godawful Streets of Man: A Book Of Raw Wire In The City, I found a look at a city that is just as the book describes: raw. It is an unapologetic, unflinching look into the back alleys and poorly lit areas of the human condition. It gives the reader a look into an urban anger and despair that is as haunting as it is unwavering. It is the kind of beauty found in ruins of past civilizations.

The two major themes that run through the book are the notes of despondency and disconnect that seem to pop up somewhere in almost every poem.

From the very beginning, Bett presents this sense of an unfiltered speaker that will walk you through this book pointing at the tragedies of a place with language that does not lose itself in self-deprecation or sentimentality....

This book does not slow down. The further you go into it, the more momentum it carries and the faster that momentum seems to be taking you. As this momentum picks up, the poems begin to change on the page. More and more lines begin to make up the poems, while those lines themselves become shorter. All the while, Bett is relentless in his tone, and finds ways to achieve his poems with fewer words as it progresses....

This is not a "feel-good" kind of reading. That kind of emotional pleasure, I think, you would be hard-pressed to find in its pages. But, if you are willing to follow Bett into this urban world of frayed wire, dark alleys, and empty boxes, you will find a voice that is braver than many, and a view of the world that is beautiful in its starkness. Those Godawful Streets Of Man: A Book Of Raw Wire In The City gives you exactly what the name suggests. You only have to take a breath and dive into a world perhaps more familiar than we would like to admit.

Front Porch Journal (Texas)

Stephen Bett is damned sure that none of us is going to get out of this city unscathed. Those Godawful Streets of Man: A Book Of Raw Wire In The City is a little light when it comes to optimism; this book is a sneer from a mouth full of broken teeth...

In Bett's city someone just played the joker against any chance of a winning hand. People smear themselves like bloodstains all over their attempts to find love. Those that do find love discover just how flawed love can be. Those Godawful Streets of Man is an illustrated fall from grace, one gut punch at a time...

Stephen Bett's city is under siege, love is a doomed lost cause and you can't trust anyone in
Those Godawful Streets of Man. Love and tenderness are abandoned as life cracks a hard whip over every sucker's back in these bruised beauties. There are no happy endings. Bett is betting that readers will recognize his remorseless city as a place they've spent time. We have all had our broken hearts turn black and brooding, and Bett is certain we'll remember. He gives voice to some angry sorrow. And these poems sting smart...

Those Godawful Streets of Man is not for the weak of heart. These poems are the white-knuckle, white-hot anger of pure emotional betrayal, the picked scabs of love. Dark and intriguing poetry. But it won't make you happy. Stephen Bett is damned sure that none of us is going to get out of this city unscathed.

This is the second time Today's Book of Poetry has gone into Stephen Bett world. No holding back in Bett world. These beauties sing.

― Michael Dennis, Today's Book of Poetry

Those Godawful Streets of Man: Wow! Blown away. "17th Street" and "32nd Street" took my breath away.... Very dark stuff. Dystopia has come home to roost in Stephen Bett's poetry!

Lou Boxer (www.noir.com)

Breathing Arizona: A Journal offers a great collection of tight, striking poems that capture Stephen Bett's attempt to breathe life into a relationship.... This is surely minimalist beauty, and from one of the leading poets nowadays. I admire what Bett does immensely: minimalist poetry is an act of immense self-discipline, one of the essential tools for a writer in any medium. Richard Godwin (novelist, critic)

Breathing Arizona is a sweet, open testimonial [that] presents the poet, his humour, and his grace.... A flight of magic in a shattered and violent world [that can] make the angels sing.

― Rebecca Banks (Quebec blog)

In Penny-Ante Poems, Stephen Bett painfully confronts and disrupts the romanticism of modern day love. What remains of the self when myths are suddenly and inexplicably evaporated? In this startling collection lovers' dialogue dissolves into hoarse soliloquies. Each poem strips itself to the tender bones, metaphor is brutally denuded, and language is reduced to fraught stammer. Bett unravels the atoms of speech to uncover a new voice that coalesces desire and loss. Into a new (w)hole, he speaks to his own echoes.

Orchid Tierney (poet, critic)

Stephen Bett's hip, lean poetry encompasses a huge range of jazz and moves like mercury between styles.... This is a poet who writes with a subtlety that keeps with the rhythm of his verse as he makes it all modern again.... This is an important and enjoyable book. For lovers of jazz and of poetry, Sound Off: a book of jazz is a great introduction to a major poetic talent who is also an acute observer of the contemporary world.

― Richard Godwin (London)

I've read the poems from Sound Off: a book of jazz several times over and must say I'm impressed. Nice to see you're writing Jazz, not writing about jazz. Some very subtle, sophisticated rhythm changes. Love the way your love of the music, with a kind of insider's obsessiveness, permeates the whole collection. Also appreciate the interplay between pieces, little tonal cues and echoes that evoke the playfulness intrinsic to jazz. For all its understated, unassuming airs you're really taking some risks here (not something I've seen much of in the last 20 years of Canadian Writing), pushing out against the perimeters with a kind of edgy assurance. Like this stuff a lot. Shows how thoroughly the craft must be learned before one can make it this malleable.

Ken Cathers (poet)

The poet's love for jazz shines through in all of the poems in Sound Off, and fans of the genre... will find much to appreciate in this collection.

Small Press Reviews (U.S.)

Sound Off: a book of jazz is jazzspeak, as if on a cloud drawing down fragments of light in broken thought forms, a celebration of some of the greatest modern jazz musicians of our time.

― Subterranean Blue Poetry (Montreal)

In Re-Positioning every ending has a kind of simulated punch line. Like we're listening into a conversation that's nothing but innuendo and that has to wrap itself up in innuendo, because that's what those kinds of conversations do, even though innuendo's just a pretext anyway... [This is the type of book] that changes the way you look at the world.

Michael Johnson, So and So Magazine (U.S.)

There is no shortage of ideological depth in Stephen Bett's Re-positioning... but even more refreshing is Bett's subtle approach to demeaning the credenda of various literary critics.... Occupied by happy existentialists... and Freudian analysts, Re-Positioning feels like a 'Showtime' guide for those of us with the cognitive capacity for allusive, sometimes 'elusive' text.... Subtle inferences are made between the... real-life characters of the poems and the steady narrative voice, [which]... contains a rich sense of overlooked history in areas of religion, pop culture and medicine.

Frankie Metro, Unlikely Stories (U.S.)

Track This: a book of relationship is a book of authentic minimalist poetry. The words are so modestly beautiful in their arrangement upon the white page while showing an emotional intelligence within the micro-text. Poetic minimalism is notoriously difficult to master. Yet Track This manipulates the sparse format so aptly that the outcome is a poignant expression of the tensions that exist [on the page]. At times, the collection demonstrates the understated gentleness of the English language with a human voice that makes the poetry so accessible to the layperson (while it beckons multiple readings from the widely read). To satisfy both types of readers is an incredible accomplishment.

REM magazine (New Zealand)

Stephen Bett's works are characteristically sharp and superficially simple. Yet they mask a sincere emotion which, in subsequent readings, grows deeper with intensity. Brevity yields nuances, words become packed with unsaid dialogue, lines are meant to be read 'in between.' That being said, the layers within the poems are wonderfully subtle... Minimalist poetry makes its own rules to convey meaning but any successful poem should read beyond the printed word. Track This made me fall in love at first sight with Bett's work. I spent hours pouring over his book trying to understand how he melded particular nuances to words that normally yielded none. Several months on... the one thing I do understand of his work is this gut feeling: the hallmark of authentic poetry is the ability to inspire a determined thought process and― 'I wish I could I write like that!'

Tuesday Poem

Track This... is an emotionally generous collection of stylistically spare poetry... that will likely challenge the casual reader to rethink conventional notions of language.... By toying with the conventions of language, Bett draws attention to the ways in which language and relationships are given to the same types of uncertainty.... We love because we want to connect, the poems in this volume suggest, and it's in the attempt, in the grappling we do in the dark among the interstices of communication... that we find the agony and ecstasy of all that makes life worth living.

Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews (U.S.)

I like these poems. A great book of beauties. Very sweet and clear!

Michael Rothenberg (poet)

Track This literally tracks the birth and growth of a romantic relationship, which at first seems like fodder too common for poems. But about halfway through, as the speaker of the poems begins dealing with the tension in the relationship, the poems grow more complex and engender the struggle of loving and the struggle of poetry. Which I can get behind.

Kelci McDowell, Switchback Magazine (U.S.)

Track This hits the spot... another good value read from BlazeVOX."

James McLaughlin, Stride Magazine (England)

These poems in S PLIT are soooo delicious. Mouth-watering. Tingling....so bitter, so sharp, so sad. Such beautiful work. I am absolutely stunned.

― Judy Gouin (artist)

Canadian poet Stephen Bett's Extreme Positions: the soft-core industry Exposed skewers the would-be-wicked self-help genre of sex columnists, blogs, & manuals... revealing their desperation and often false urbanity.... The sophistication of Bett's shifting points of view and slangy, nudge-nudge/wink-wink diction focuses readers' attention on the queasy-making implications of law as a replacement for sentiment. Demonstrating the influence of postmodern American poets Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, and Anselm Hollo, Bett cuts his lines short and hones language. The intention is to thrust cleanly, as if with a stiletto, into the heart of his subject.... Clearly, Bett offers self-deprecation and wry chuckles along with his cultural critique.

― Billey Rainey, Exquisite Corpse (U.S.)

I'm already a big fan of Stephen Bett's poems, so these new ones in Sass 'n Pass only corroborate that fact. Bett has great energy and is full of life and, my god, he sure knows how to write... I really like the poetry -- immensely! I know if Joel Oppenheimer were alive he would love this new book. These are just the kind of poems he championed. All the poems are very good in this collection, but some are sensational, really, and I marvel at their execution and delivery.... They are pleasing to the ear, pleasing to hear, they look good on the page, they are so subtly crafted. ... Bravo! I'm still reading Bett's books and still liking reading them― great stuff, in fact.

― M.G. (Mike) Stephens (poet, novelist, critic)

Nota Bene Poems: a Journey comes with instructions, "NB serial poems: note well".... Language is deconstructed... disconnected....Through allusions to Dante... or to Rilke, we learn of [this poet's] Beatrice; she can become a sacred "other," while he morphs into... Brother Antoninus, The Rose of Solitude. With alchemical allusion to "the basest of metals" [and to] "my Boethius & my Virgil"... the poet seeks "dark hermeneutics" in Buddhist or Christian, Greek or Roman mythology.... With this micro/macro cosmology of the ancient world, [Bett] has made relevant and present, the successive reincarnations of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Anne Burke, The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature

Anyone who has read earlier books by Stephen Bett... may think that they know all about his style of poetry... his acerbic wit and his unforgiving view of all things stupidly human. His word-play and his eye for found poetry will be remembered in many inventive passages. Opening Bett's latest book [however] one is in for a great surprise: the author has turned his gaze inward.... Nota Bene Poems: a journey is a long, strange trip for the lovers [a contemporary Orpheus and Eurydice] and for the readers who will witness their story. Stephen Bett's poems really dig in to remain with you after you close the book.

― The Pacific Rim Review of Books (Victoria)

Stephen Bett's slangy, jivey Nota Bene Poems... has plenty of anguish and despair to share. The [71 part] serial poem identifies [a] couple in relation to... Orpheus and Eurydice. What's unique... is the loose and humorous notes that Orph sends down to his Eury girl in Hades. The man is suffering but can't help being sassy at the same time. It's a risky venture, love poetry. Bett pulls it off.

BC Bookworld

Anyone who had read his [previous books] knows that Stephen Bett is an on-target... and serious satirist. He is outraged by the inanities of modern culture and doesn't apologize for his skewering of them.... [His] caustic wit is in top form in High-Maintenance.

John Tyndall, The Rain Review of Books (Vancouver)

Stephen Bett's latest, High-Maintenance, takes a straight-edge to the oddities of contemporary life, both reveling in and tearing to bits the inanity of the everyday.... A scathing and hilarious romp through the frivolous horrors of actually paying attention to what's going on around us.

Jason Dewinetz

A healthy mix of Kootenay school media saturated cynicism with an Olsonian sense of folksy grandeur.

― Tim Davis

Its mouthy pizazz & fearless taking on of whatever the pop & political culture throws at us.

― Don McKay

Stephen Bett [in High-Maintenance] cultivates a rebel's persona. His fractious and satiric idiom... calls for free forms. Syntax accelerates, and euphemisms and paragrammatic substitutions [find] likely targets.... The poems work because [Bett's] 'poetics' cues the blend of pop-culture and politics in the subject matter. Bett follows the cues... and his riffs work as comedy.

― Chris Jennings, Canadian Literature

The poems in Cruise Control are jewels, [each] with its ever-deft line, its plangent smartness, the way the suites build on themselves like architecture.... I love this book.

Forrest Gander

Bett is noted for his experimental language poems and his quirky takes on 'postmodern' life.... In his new book, Cruise Control, he happily gores contemporary jargon and pretension...[in] those jazzy riffs on contemporary life that I have been citing with considerable pleasure.

Marilyn Rose, Journal of Canadian Poetry

[In Cruise Control] there's a kineticism of line, neon trajectories of thought like tracer bullets.... Take a plunge into energy where the synaptic juncture has snapped leaving raw the wires of poetry.

Zygote Magazine (Winnipeg)

Cruise Control embraces the best aspects of contemporary poetry: it revels in the English language, in the line, the stanza, the poetic form. This collection achieves a particularly fine balance between the comic and the serious, a testimony to a poet with heart. I look forward to many more fine books from Stephen Bett.

John Oughton, Canadian Poetry Association

Cruise Control is as lively, irreverent, intelligent, bold, and original as your Lucy Kent poems. I do want you to know how much I respect your work.

―C.W. (Bill) Truesdale

What strikes me most about Stephen Bett's Lucy Kent and other poems -- other than its sheer skill, clarity of tone, diction, line -- is its unpretentiousness... His is an observant eye and a steady one, which plays close and thoughtful attention not only to the world but to the language.

― Peter Quartermain

[In Lucy Kent] one is struck by a freshness and an ease in the use of language as both subject and vehicle.... [Bett] re-invents language in the process of writing.... [His] book is extensive and full of poems which show an acute awareness of the politics of art and literature right from the opening lines [on John Ashbery and Jackson Pollock].... And that's the same sort of excitement Bett constantly injects into his poems.

―Cornelis Vleeskens, The CRNLE Reviews Journal (Australia)

Poetry is the traditional research lab where language gets re-invented.... In Lucy Kent... local poet Stephen Bett [demonstrates that] making words dance across the page should not seem like a subversive act.

―Alan Twigg, The Vancouver Province

Stephen Bett's Lucy Kent poems are clever and colloquial... and always filled with subtle constructions.

Cathy Matyas, Essays on Canadian Writing