Eckhart Cars, Peter Jaegar
2004, Salt Publishing, 132 pages
isbn 1-844710-37-8, $15.95 US
can place their eyes
against the pieces
p 1, Eckhart Cars
The most recent collection by Canadian poet Peter Jaegar, now living and teaching in London, England, is Eckhart Cars, after the collections Sub-Twang Mustard (poetry, chapbook, housepress, Calgary, 2000), ABC of Reading TRG [on the Toronto Research Group] (criticism, Talonbooks, Vancouver, 1999) and Power Lawn (poetry, Coach House Books, 1999).
A diverse collection of pieces under the banner of Eckhart Cars, the collection is filled with jagged lyric: "all ear / but never long without the heart / all her twinkling stars." (p 87, A Black Tooth In Front). The strongest section has to be the first, the multi-part title poem, as he writes:
Faced with a careful selection
of chemical stews, commonly found
plastered to walls or pouring
over heaths, dunes, and stony places,
we should buck up, for perfection
equals normalcy, and we assume
a human power to exceed
the less heroic traits most valued
in our culture...
p 2, Eckhart Cars
Each section, each piece follows its own constructional path and stretch, from the fugue of couplets that make up "Sitting" (p 67-71), the back and forth of lyric and choice in "Bibliodoppler" (p 72-77), to the ongoing length of the final piece, "A Black Tooth In Front" (p 87-129). The second piece, "Pollen," reads like a series of slogans or maxims, writing "As long as we stay with specifics we can only accumulate" (p 3) or "All theory constantly aspires toward the condition of example." (p 14). The piece "Buoyant" wipes all across the page, reading as a scatter: "ballast spreads // in tunes / waves // in the diner takes // a bath birth // twists // the water breaks –" (p 61).
Or, as in the jagged breaks of the poem "Midwest" (p 22-8), the text reads as a string of electrical starts, and breaks that read as both ends and expectations, taking the next instead to a different place, the poem existing there within the collisions:
strings of animal families
are at last. Slaking a penny
on my banking, as the
clanly faces seed
a back-up blameless: I
bark, the place a
p 23, Midwest
It’s as though the words are building up the text and at the same time destroying it.
the author of a dream, awake
to basic pretence–
p 33, A Book I Am Dreaming
The collection reads as though Jaegar worked through as many "baffles" as he could find (as Bowering has called individual constraints) and collected them into a book. Even on the back cover, the book describs itself as "not unlike a collage which samples and modifies other pieces of writing." And with Jaegar’s background, working on the Toronto Research Group (made up of bpNichol and Steve McCaffery), as well as both references in the book and on the back cover, he certainly knows his way around various kinds of non-linear writings (anyone who reads the collection can find plenty of references and games in the material), managing to take that ball and go so much further. I mean, should we be reading John Newlove into "So They Say" or bpNichol into the prose piece "Martyrologies," that begins:
He admitted that this was so, and after a short imprisonment he
was beheaded. He was broken limb by limb. She was burned to
death on an islet in the river. Whereupon they were buried alive.
But eventually she died from her sufferings. For the insubordina-
tion they were twice decimated. She was executed by being stabbed
in the throat (a common Roman form of execution). He was
himself arrested and put to death amongst supernatural happen-
ings. In a drunken fury they set on him, pelting him with bones,
and although one of them tried to save him, he was killed by a
blow on the head with an axe.
– p 52, Martyrologies
With the small size of his previous trade collection, Power Lawn, I’ve heard suggestions that Eckhart Cars is Jaegar’s first full-length poetry collection. Either way, Coach House Books should certainly put Power Lawn back in print; or someone should. Eckhart Cars is an impressive collection of pieces by a writer who knows the difference between reference and repetition, and knows how to write it close to the bone. It’s only unfortunate that, as a Canadian writer, Salt Publishing doesn’t have Canadian distribution (they distribute, I believe, in the US, UK and Australia). It would be good for more Canadians to be able to read one of their own.
What I like best is the smell. I don’t know what kinds of ink you folk use over there in England, but I could spend my whole day smelling this. Do you remember that part of Fast Times at Ridgemont High where the whole class smelled the gestetner copies?