Tar Swan


Tar Swan is a multi-voiced reckoning that surveys the mythos of the Alberta oil sands with an approach that is both lyrical and experimental. The poems feature four voices: an oil sands developer, his plant mechanic, an archaeologist excavating the remains of the operation in the present day, and a mythical swan. David Martin’s debut collection is comprised of expansive and richly written poems, built on a lore-laden language, which explore the human and environmental cost of drawing too much from the land. As the three humans come into contact with the otherworldly swan, the voices bubble and churn together, and what is distilled is a psychological breakdown paralleling the toll taken on the earth.

“Through its daring, and brilliantly challenging, use of diction, syntax and imagery, it embodies the best of contemporary experimental verse. ‘Tar Swan’ urgently speaks to central concerns of our time, particularly here in Canada: the consequences of coal and oil extraction, environmental degradation, and our responsibility to the natural world.” ~ CBC Poetry Prize Citation


“James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, said: ‘A demon of rotation is loose in the world.’ David Martin knows that the demon is now powered by petroleum, and he tracks it to the Alberta Tar Sands. Martin’s poems fuse research, myth and human drama into a blazing work of art.” ~ Bert Almon, author of A Ghost in Waterloo Station

“Martin’s troubling of the history of the tar sands in this impressive first poetry collection invites more historical and creative work in this vein.” ~ Melanie Dennis Unrau, from a review published in The Goose

“Martin’s complex collection criticizes the hubristic development of the tar sands and unearths fixed forms to reckon with environmental change.” ~ Kait Pinder, from a review published in Canadian Literature

“In Tar Swan, David Martin has composed a quartet of exuberant and unpredictable voices on an urgent contemporary theme for the age of climate change. The eponymous swan is a ‘single cygnet’ who sings and leaves traces that now ‘drive your cars’ as well as the myths that make the Alberta Tar Sands possible. Martin explores those myths in gritty, sensual, and historically vivid language. This ambitious debut immerses us in the tar of archaeology and the bite of our own environmental dilemma, all with ‘a master’s sprezzatura form.'” Jury Citation – Raymond Souster Award

“This book is a wild ride, chilling at times though leavened with dark humour, and the poet has an ominous warning for politicians and taxpayers to come.” Sid Marty, Alberta Views