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Hot Poppies by Leon Rooke  

Don’t suspend disbelief. Don’t arrest it, curtail it, or unfrock it. Disbelief is in the fine print scratched at the bottom of Leon Rooke’s literary contract. ... If we relinquish anything to read Rooke, it should be sobriety.

‘Everything from her mouth / I wrote down in a blue book.’

So begins Hot Poppies, a collection of poems by Leon Rooke, that grand master of the vocal jag and lyrical roar. Those who know Rooke’s fiction -- the Governor General’s award-winning novel Shakespeare’s Dog, for example -- will expect his first published poems to be rife with surreal flourishes, blazing language, sex, death, dogs and justice. All of these things are to be found in this blue book. So are Jasper Johns, (Lord) B, Princess Di, Lassie, Mahalia Jackson and John Cage.

Hot Poppies is a riotous, extravagant book, fresh from the hot-house, but it is also seductive and subversive. Five-line love lyrics, full of epigrammatic spark, intersperse vitriolic satires on American electoral antics. Britney Spears goes to war with the squirrels, ‘hefty as flying raccoons,’ and James Tate’s condemned man talks hurricanes and death row dinners with his warden. Rooke writes poetry with the glitter-seeking eye of a magpie, discovering unsettling beauties in his hoard of cultural detritus and post-millennial dread.


2006—ReLit Awards, Poetry,

Review quote

‘If you are a fan of Rooke’s fiction, you’ll likely enjoy his poetry. Much as Don Coles seemed to spring fully formed into the late genius of a life-long novelist, Rooke has arrived with a ‘‘first’’ book of uncommon skill and voice. ... Hot Poppies is a very impressive debut.’

—George Murray, Globe and Mail

Review quote

‘Don’t suspend disbelief. Don’t arrest it, curtail it, or unfrock it. Disbelief is in the fine print scratched at the bottom of Leon Rooke’s literary contract. ... If we relinquish anything to read Rooke, it should be sobriety.’

—Quill and Quire

Review quote

‘Rooke’s surreal flourishes and sense of humour are reminiscent of American Surrealist James Tate. In fact, Tate’s work is directly addressed in two of Rooke’s poems: ‘‘Continuation of the James Tate Poem ‘The Condemned Man’ ’’ and ‘‘Continuation of the James Tate Poem ‘Peggy in the Twilight.’ ’’ This nod to Tate is an important detail because, while readers who enjoy traditional lyric verse may find the surrealism in Hot Poppies difficult and pointless, those who love experimentation with language and images will find much to appreciate.’

—Greg Santos,

Review quote

‘Rooke’s book moves with the playful confidence and the virile language of a more mature masculinity.’

—Gregory Betts, Canadian Literature

Previous review quote

‘Rooke’s language is a riotous, tumultuous force of nature.’

—Publishers Weekly

Previous review quote

‘Rooke’s voice is that of a Southern Gothic storyteller (he was born and raised in North Carolina) sucking on a postmodern lozenge. He is not a writer who has worked to recreate his surroundings or his youth, but rather has roamed widely through social classes, literary forms, and imaginative spaces.’

—Nathan Whitlock, Quill & Quire

Back cover copy

‘These unexpected poems, from fiction-master Leon Rooke, are full of swerves and rages, sudden stillnesses and the grit of real compassion. Their colloquialism rearranges your mind. Both love and anger have hope at their heart; among other things, these poems want to waken that hope.’

—Anne Michaels

Unpublished endorsement

‘He’s a writer with a black belt in portraying the small daily tragedies that break bones and leave no visible wounds.’

—Russell Banks


Leon Rooke is an international reveller, skirt-chaser and former wastrel whose celebrated oeuvre may have been ghosted by his wicked half-sister, or maybe his mother, or an eighteenth-century ‘Keeper of the Lamps’. But not this one. We may wonder why. Also, he’s a raffish [ed. note: charming] bum.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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POETRY / General

HUMOR / Form / Limericks & Verse

ISBN-13: 9780889842632

Publication Date: 2005-02-28

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 96

Price: $14.95