________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006


Poetic Justice: Satirical Verse from The Globe and Mail

John Allemang. Illustrated by Brian Gable.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2006.
168 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 1-55407-229-8.
Subject Heading:
Verse satire, Canadian (English). 

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up. 

Review by Dave Jenkinson. 

***1/2 /4 


They say the game has passed Don by?

This queer world needs his straight-guy eye

To bring back hockey’s manly arts

And rip out all those bleeding hearts -

What tie goes best with blood and gore?

This ain’t a sport, it’s civil war,

So throw away that full-face shield

To make a level battlefield,

And then, when Cherry speaks his mind,

The blind will truly lead the blind. 

(From “Coach, Cornered.”) 

Regular readers of The Globe and Mail will recognize “Poetic Justice” as being the name of a poetry feature that appears in that newspaper’s Saturday “Focus” section. In his “Introduction,” Allemang explains how his idea of writing a weekly news poem moved from just a concept to becoming reality in April 2002. He also goes on to describe the weekly process he follows to create that week’s poem, a process that begins on Tuesday with Allemang’s sending his editors three to five possible subjects based on his having read numerous newspapers and news websites. He describes Thursday as being his usual writing day but acknowledges that there have been instances when he’s been writing up to his Friday 10 a.m. deadline. He describes his poems as “mostly simple one-syllable rhymes in chatty iambic tetrameter.” 

     For Poetic Justice: Satirical Verse from The Globe and Mail, Allemang has selected 75 poems from his weekly feature. Of these, seven are from 2002, 15 from 2003, 23 from 2004, 25 from 2005 and five from 2006. Unfortunately, Allemang does not set forth his criteria for having selected these particular pieces. Nonetheless, he has provided a good variety. Some of the story poems, such as “Johnny Carson (1925-2005),” “John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)” and “Liberation: Yasser Arafat (1929-2004),” serve as ironic obituaries. Others, like “Valediction for Jean Chrétien, 2003," “Are You There, Stephen? It’s Me, God” or “The New Mrs. Harper,” recognize the players involved in government change. Although many of the poems’ contents deal with national and international political events, Allemang also touches on the worlds of sport and entertainment as well, with poems like “Blood Sport” [the Todd Bertuzzi hit] or “The Martha Stewart Year (A Courtroom Pastorale).”  

     The contents of many of the poems remain relevant to contemporary readers, but Allemang correctly recognizes that, in some instances, the details of a news event may have faded from readers’ memories. In those cases, he includes a small side note to provide a context for the poem. Consequently, accompanying a poem entitled “Business Class, “ there is a note reading: 

    Dennis Kozlowski, party guy and free-spending CEO of Tyco International, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for stealing $170-million from his company and manipulating its share price for another $430-million windfall. 


     Possibly Allemang has overestimated his readers, and I suspect many readers (certainly this one, at least) would have appreciated a few more of the memory-jogging side notes, especially with poems that related more to what might be described as “sensational” or soft news headlines. One example would be Allemang’s “The Runaway Bride” which deals with the disappearance of Jennifer Willbanks. Although this event happened but some 18 months ago, Willibanks’ behaviour is likely largely long forgotten today and replaced by another momentary headline of the “Paris Hilton arrested for DUI” variety. 

     Although Allemang’s poetry is connected to the oft transient headlines of the week, some of his poems, such as “Same-Sex: God Weighs In,” “Here’s Osama!,” “Our Sympathies.” “Osama’s Christmas Letters” and “Chewing the Fat,” have legs as they deal with recurring issues in our world. 

     The book’s visual appearance is enhanced by a dozen drawings by Brian Gable, the editorial cartoonist for The Globe and Mail. A closing “Index of Poems” indicates when each poem appeared in the newspaper.  

     Poetic Justice: Satirical Verse from The Globe and Mail would likely be housed in the adult section of a public library, but the book definitely would not be out of place in a high school library or classroom. English teachers could use it to show the relevance of the poetic form in today’s world while the book’s contents have numerous obvious tie-ins with contemporary history or world issues classes. Poems like “Coach, Cornered,” “Perdita in Perdition” and “The Yellowed Jersey” would not be out of place in a physical education class. As well, satire is also a sophisticated form of humour which appeals to the critical, sometimes cynical, minds of many older adolescents. 

Highly Recommended. 

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba. 

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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