Saturday, January 07, 2006

a brief note on the poetry of Lisa Jarnot

Lately I've been rereading Lisa Jarnot's Black Dog Songs (Chicago IL: Flood Editions, 2003) and her more recent chapbook Reptile House (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2005). A New York City poet born in Buffalo, Jarnot is the author of two previous volumes of poetry, Some Other Kind of Mission (1996) and Ring of Fire (2001/2003), and chapbooks that include Heliopolis (rem press), The New Mannerist Tricycle (Beautiful Swimmer Press), 9 Songs (Belladonna) and Two of Everything (Meow Press), as well as a novel, Promise X , and a biography of the poet Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus (both due in 2007). Since I've not yet seen any of those other books, I'll focus on the two at hand.

HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA

Oh Canada, you are melancholy today
and so am I, and here is the giant metal airplane
that fills the sky above the steam heat of my
dreams, beside decisions well between the
quiet that's between us

and also do you think of the hibiscus
on your roadsides, Dutch, like bags of carrots
still heroic wrapped in snow upon the tiny
screens that show it to you, particular neighbor
who breathes, alive, asleep, beside the surface
of the ice, upon the moon in silver deep. (Black Dog Songs)

There does seem something funny to me, typing in a poem about "Hockey Night in Canada" by an American, and wanting to type in the Canadian/British spelling of neighbour, instead of her "neighbor." A resonant and lively collection, the poems are broken up into four sections -- "Early and Uncollected Poems," "My Terrorist Notebook," "They" and "Black Dog Songs" -- and the ones that really grab are the ones in the second, "My Terrorist Notebook," that begin with:

This is the beginning of my terrorist notebook--all terror-
ism all the time. I would have had to blow up the World
Trade Center to get anyone's attention when I was a kid.
I'm tired of being nice. Nice is out. I want to live in a cave
with Osama and sleep on the floor of the cave. I want to
poke people's eyes out with their cell phone antennas.
Maybe I would feel better if I exercised more. Pretty soon
I will run out of money and that will be the end of my ter-
rorist activities. We have a situation here, we terrorists, in
our caves, blowing up the rest of the many muddy mouses,
swinging by their mousie tails over the heads of the mousie
moms under the muddy mousie moon, don't move, and
watch the mousie moon, you mom of mouse, now watch the
mousie moon. (Black Dog Songs)

In seven short, sharp poems, Jarnot eviscerates the government reaction, in poems for Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, writing the sameness of these acts and all acts, as acts of recognition, fear, response and terrorism.

SWAMP FORMALISM

for Donald Rumsfeld

As if they were not men,
amphibious, gill-like, with
wings, as if they were
sunning on the rocks, in a
new day, with their flickered
lizard tongues, as if they were
tiny and biting and black,
as if I was a hero or they were,
as if the they and these us that
arrived, out of the same blue
ground bogs, as if from my
bog that I saw the sun and
swam up to the surface, as if
the surface was shining, like a
lizard to embrace, as if the
random pain of lizard heads
on sticks were prettier to eat,
as if I didn't kill the plants, the
water, and the air, as if the
fruit and the sheep were all
diamond shaped and melted,
allowing in the sun, underground,
crowned, in shadows, in the
main dust, from the self same
main dust spring. (Black Dog Songs)

What I like about Jarnot's poetry is the fact that she seems to work within these thematic sections, writing whole sections as fragments of one piece, shifting between connections of form and content in a wonderful sense of humour and formal play. These very much feel like poems that are responding to the world around her, made up of the world instead of working to recreate the world. The thirteen pages in the space of Jarnot's chapbook Reptile House, published by Jay MillAr's BookThug, work thematically through just what you would expect from the title, moving through the same energies of form and play shown in Black Dog Songs.

INVOCATION OF A DEMON CROCODILE

Some ancient trauma
made you who you are
all made of meat
without a heart unscarred
that has no fur
that rounds the netherworld,
whose gaze is glassy,
teeth quick-witted pearl,
a water-snake,
not human, lacking hobbies,
with small eyes and a flat head
sculpted knobby
in snow you're useless,
dinosaurs relate
with feet that stick out
sideways from the plate
while worlds are modern
not so is your pose,
of tail and doze,
yet like the eggs
that peep out in the spring,
o crocodile to you
I here will sing. (Reptile House)

What I am really looking forward to is her biography of the poet Robert Duncan (some of which has already appeared in John Tranter's Jacket), one of a trio of San Francisco poets that met up in the 1950s that included Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer, all of which had tremendous effect upon Vancouver poetry throughout the 1960s and beyond (Blaser even moved to Vancouver to teach at Simon Fraser University in the 1960s). Apparently there was even a conference on Duncan in Vancouver last April, but I wasn't able to make it out; hopefully someone eventually will be publishing a volume of papers from said conference, perhaps?

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