Shawna Lemay’s rich, amused, insistent, ingenious meditation on Venice will surprise readers with its peculiar grace. Here is the work of an elegant raconteur; a self-effacing, sharp-eared occupier of voices; a high-toned, compassionate gossip. From many mouths, she offers us the city, doomed, full of light. 

Lemay’s Venice is a small, crowded community of the delightfully eccentric dead. Through her quirky dramatic monologues, each one shimmering with a companionable intelligence, we meet them – George Eliot, Peggy Guggenheim, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Effie Ruskin, Ernest Hemingway, Titian, various unnamed others; we meet them in mid-speech; it seems they have never stopped talking, talking, telling now (or refusing still to tell) their secrets, protecting their vanities still, finally saying what they truly think. Lemay has given us an entire world, dark, haughty, watery, beautiful, full of voices, sedimented with stories.

(McClelland & Stewart, 2001)



“…a rich collection of poems celebrating Venice in the eternal present tense of art and literature.”  

- Todd Babiak

“Lemay has a sharp eye for detail, a gift for the apt phrase, and a sardonic wit that, in the best of these poems, allows both deep emotion and a clear recognition of the follies of lonely lost humans.”  

- Douglas Barbour

“There are some finely honed and beautiful poems in this collection, in pieces that can be admired not only for craft and wry humour, but, more important, enjoyed.” 
- Globe and Mail

“Elegant. Lush. Decadent.”  
- matt robinson

From Against Paradise:

My Venice

I have brought you here for

Plunked you into this gawdawful charming armchair.
I've been suspended there, too
smelling the bowls of dust sunk into plush upholstery.
Traced by fingers along the threadbare crimson velvet arms
pictured my body disposed
below the surface of slow running water.

I've not brought you here
to sink a stiletto into your breast
or trim off your head with a hatchet.

Behold the Venetian dagger.

Compact, elegant.
Subtly tinted blade of Murano glass
encased in polished metal.
The glass breaks at the haft
with a gentle thrust
into the victim's belly.
Guaranteed to leave a wound
that has the victim say,
indeed 'tis nothing, the merest scratch, a nick.
Comes in mauve, periwinkle, garnet, and chartreuse.
Scrollwork optional.
Festering begins immediately.

Whose Name Is Fluid

Is it fair?

Bellini has one named after him.
Champagne with a splash of peach juice.
Titian, too. The Tiziano! Exclamation point optional.
Champagne, grape and pomegranate juice.

The Bellini glows, triple-glaze sunrise
tickles and slinks all the way down your esophagus.
The Tiziano - you want to dip your pinky
drink the whole thing that way.
The entire damned bar wants to meet you
when a Bellini or a Tiziano is sitting there
your fingers around the stem of a glass
like a wilting, wilting rose.
With drinks like these who needs cigarettes.

No such thing as a Canaletto.
Whose name is fluid.

When he was alive
he was known as a greedy-guts chiselling miser
who played on his fame to increase his prices.
He was prolific, thought to be quite well-off.
But when he died there weren't packets of money
his furniture assessed as junk
the clothes in his closet musty and shabby.
Cloaks in ill-repair, that sort of thing.

On his bargain basement deathbed
did he regret
not having sipped enough of the bubbly?

The problem for bartenders isn't Canaletto's taxable income,
net worth, possible meandering, or ineptitude
with the cold hard cash.
It's the colour.

What do you mix with champagne
to get that
stagnant shimmery steel-blue, gloopy dust-green?
Simply too multifaceted, protean.