Primer on the hereafter, Steve McOrmond
In his second poetry collection, Primer on the hereafter (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2006), Toronto poet Steve McOrmond follows the craft established in his first, Lean Days (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, ), carving out a collection of clean and precise poems. One of the original group of editors of QWERTY magazine out of the University of New Brunswick in the late 1990s, I like very much that the group of them from the first couple of years (very different than the current group) not only socialize with each other, but that their poems interact with each other as well, with Primer on the hereafter references (whether poem or acknowledgment) to Eric Hill, Matthew Tierney, Dave Seymour, Adam Dickinson and Andy Weaver.
(for Matthew & Charmaine Tierney)
To dwell between the snowy fastness
and the ice-locked sea, in a city of blondes.
One must have heard the existential scream,
hands over ears, the huge Os of mouth and eyes.
Know it can begin with nothing more extreme
than the flat's creaky floors, the old radiator ticking.
A fragile ecosystem: the furless, burrowing heart
and the Allen key of the mind.
Eventually, one might acquire a taste for hardcore
pornography and cod roe paste in squeeze tubes.
Held hostage in the bank vault of winter,
the captive will identify with the captor.
However peacefully it seems to fall,
there is suppressed violence in the snow. (p 46)
Based on what McOrmond seems to be working toward, structurally, with his poems, he has created himself a series of difficult goals, needing to make the poems so tight that quarters bounce off them, yet not all of them do. There is a looseness to the line that McOrmond doesn’t seem comfortable with (which could be an interesting direction to play with), causing his poems, half the time, to not yet get to that tighter place he aims toward. Still, when they do, they sing, and many of them work the ghazal-like feature that so many of the QWERTY kids have been known to work, including Andy Weaver, from his collection Were The Bees (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005)[see my review of same here]. While I was in Toronto in November, I was fortunate enough to hear McOrmond read not once but twice, including this poem, another example of his tight twists and turns, without an extraneous line or gesture:
Self-portrait as the middle-aged fool
You've come a long way
past quotidian drunkenness, past caring
whether you left the stove on, the whereabouts
of your father's deer rifle, loaded
with one in the chamber. No reason to hurry home
now that everyone but the dog has gone, and yet
where else would you go? Past last call,
throwing up in the back of the cab, and later
the dry heaves, you arrive at this clarity
like lucid dreaming. You have reached a place
where Heidegger makes sense, and stumbling
across the lawn, you can smell it: first snow,
not the end, but how an ending
is supposed to feel. In the yard, the maples
have made their arrangements, scattering
sepia photographs of themselves
on the sidewalk, and the only
suitable gesture is to weep. (p 14)