Reviewing poetry is a tricky matter. Unlike a work of prose fiction, you can't usually judge the work based on an author's ability to create believable characters, write a plot or any of the other yardsticks you'd use to measure a novel's worth. While any piece of writing's impact will vary from reader to reader, poetry is by far the most subjective.
Not only will different people react in radically different ways to the same poem, an individual's reactions to a poem can change depending on the mood they're in or how they are feeling on a particular day. However that's not to say there aren't ways to evaluate a poet's abilities.
For most poetry the key is remembering not to intellectualize the process but to assess the work based on the reactions it triggers. Do you have an emotional or intellectual reaction, or both, to the work? Why was the poet successful, or unsuccessful, in eliciting either reaction from you?
There are poets who use imagery, draw pictures with their words, in an attempt to express something and there are poets who use words as building blocks in order to create an overall feeling or mood. Then there are those rare individuals who manage to integrate both techniques. Images and words together form a type of collage of emotions and ideas on the page. Sometimes the results are a confused mess communicating nothing.
In the hands of a skilled poet though, you end up with a poem with the ability to communicate with nearly everyone. In his latest collection of poetry, On Edge, currently available through Dark Matter Press, Kingston, Ontario Canada poet Bob MacKenzie, shows his mastery of both form and content with a series of thought-provoking and soul-stirring poems.
Do not be fooled by the volume's slimness, 16 poems in 33 pages, as its physical size in no way reflects what resides within the covers. In fact, given the intensity of the pieces and the subject matter they deal with, its the perfect length, Any more would have been too much to ask a reader to digest.
For MacKenzie has delved into territory that not only isn't often the subject of poetry but which most people don't even like to acknowledge as a fact of life in our society. Abuse, specifically the abuse children suffer at the hands of the adults supposedly responsible for protecting them from the cares of the world. MacKenzie's poems aren't content with focusing on the descent into darkness suffered by those on the receiving end, he also looks into the heart of darkness at the other end of the equation. For in order for there to be a victim there has to be someone who causes the pain.