Sunday, September 30, 2007

some brief poetry (book) reviews

I know I’ve been way behind on my reviewing; what is it about Alberta that’s kicking my ass? Here are some brief reviews to make up for my (relative) silence on the matter lately.

1. Christopher Janke's Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain
In the beginning was the rat and the rat was with god and the rat was god and the rat layed itself down to be picked at by onions. For the end or there is no end, or for the man with no description for he is not a bear and is not lipstick and is not the regularity of nature nor the fundamental pillar of all creation swinging from the stars or shaped like a curlicue.

Deeply prejudiced but gentle rat. Legislative rat. Rat beginning and ending with a bang. The lord rat running from our eating of him as he hurls all things towards their inestimable nothings, towards miracle somethings, into miracle peristalsis, miracle throat, towards Sam Dordoni in the belly of a rat. Glory be to the graviton, to the rubber-slinged and soulful. Glory to the beard. We've come here to contemplate one life, with the Lord our rat sitting in his own stomach chasing his tail, in a hall of mirrors in tactile 3D where you can fall into the mouth of a reflection and find deep inside another one to fall into. At the bottom of the mouth is another mouth.

For the word that changes one life. (pp 35-6)
One of the oddest poetry collections I've seen in a while is Turners Falls, Massachusetts' poet and editor Christopher Janke's Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain (New York NY: Fence Books, 2007), winner of the Fence Modern Poets Series. Very striking in his use of language, the collusions in the ten prose-poem structured pieces that make up this collection provide an extremely compelling mix of texture, and read as though something that is meant to be heard (or read aloud) much more than simply seen on the page. How do you contemplate a poem written from the point of view of a rat brain that has not yet fully formed?

2. Jonathon Wilcke’s pornograph

Returning to Canada after three years in Japan, Calgarian (now a resident of Vancouver) Jonathon Wilcke released his first trade collection of poetry, pornograph (2004), published by Red Deer Press. It makes me wonder about Red Deer, with rumours after Wilcke’s collection was published, that the press isn’t publishing poetry anymore. Considering only this and Ian Samuels’ premiere collection (to my knowledge), Cabra (2000) have appeared from the press over the past seven years, I become unsure as to what the difference is.

An impressive first collection, pornograph is made up of breaks and fragments, chunks and clusters of prose and overlapping texts as a single unit, woven together nearly seamlessly through seven sections: heads of senate; boeuf (for Fred Wah); fits all’ parfum; jaw; debut; and jackbooty.

Insert tab A into slot B. English teeth. Removable ass-fangled seat for
sitting. Forgot my ass at home. Front stoop escalators. A pregnant pause.
What’s the weather like. New York nostril for sitting. Jean jacket from
the suburbs. Tennis shoes don’t date Oxfords. Martha your wrist is
showing. Virtual beefsteak, sperm bank and perm.

[. . .]

Pauses pregnancy. My other car is a chassis. Bill Cosby appears in my
living room making him okay, just like me. Easy chair, easy peasy. Steel
toes. First it’s a pet and then it’s guts. A pet gut. A gut rot. Morning
make-up, two-faced at the office. The breast is a miracle of modern scientists.
Populace as diverse as soup. (pp 17, 19, boeuf (for Fred Wah)

viagra offers depression a flag pole.a flag pole
a pole vault an obsolete computer called “WANG.”
(sorry). i can’t say anything beyond mentioning two wheels
and racing back. an ergy desk. a yuppie rake. myself i have a
bouche a terminal a carpal tunnel a syndrome. you should wear
that signifying chain more often. (p 66, jackbooty)

And did you know he’s been shopping around a second manuscript as well?

(-apologies to Wilcke for letting this sit in my draft pile for so long…)

3. Nicole Brossard’s Notebook of Roses and Civilization, trans. by Robert Majzels and Erin Moure

Recently, Montreal author Nicole Brossard [see my previous note on her here] was in Calgary to launch her most recent book of poetry translated into English, Notebook of Roses and Civilization (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007). Originally published in 2003 as Cahier de roses et de civilization, Brossard remains one of Canada’s most important innovators through the movement of language and gender through language, and the lyric abstract (and in both “official” languages, no less). What is it about her language that overcomes, like a slow wave, sweeping in and drowning you? What is it about her language that makes you welcome the process of being overcome?
once again the exact time the street
the cigarette we don’t light
again the time the sex of lips
existence silence that deafens
another metamorphosis
arms open

sudden taste of the sea around the arms
with one toss of the lasso
a scent of life and sweetened peanuts (p 21)
4. Sheila E. Murphy’s The Case of the Lost Objective (Case)

When she read in Edmonton recently [see the write-up here], Phoenix, Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy read from her most recent poetry collection, The Case of the Lost Objective (Case), published by Australian-based Otoliths. There is something about the quickness, quick turns and seemingly random deftness of her poems that I quite like, moving from short poems to prose pieces and even full-colour visuals (which almost never happen in trade poetry books). Although, being an American poet, they’re probably full-color visuals.
all of his indifference turned to her

and she, a shell, filled with what void
he could afford, that she could
barely hold or re(f)use,
midway through the coup if
it was that, e(r)go the summary
included not a shred of judgment,
and his candor flopped
during the delivery, which
exercise emitted revelation
after revelation pointed else-
where she could disassociate
in fewer words than he
5. Noah Eli Gordon’s Novel Pictorial Noise

Noah Eli Gordon’s newest poetry collection, Novel Pictorial Noise (HarperCollins, 2007), was chosen by John Ashbery as a winner of the 2006 National Poetry Series Open Competition, and combines prose poetry with small epigraphs that exist almost as a binary reminiscent of the Greek chorus, and almost in the way Lisa Robertson slipped her own version of binary texts in The Weather (New Star Books, 2001). There is something about the way Gordon works a “perfect stillness,” while at the same time writing through a flurry of activity that can never be contained. How can one compose stillness and unsettled movement into the same series of lines?
Somewhere, a garage door goes down. Thus, a fiction begins. Clouds gather, disperse. Let this suffice as a working formula for working a formula; what I’m coming to terms with—repetition’s liberating constraint. What occurs in the courtly world has little currency to those taking up arms against it. What I’m coming to terms with builds what which contains the components to construct an evolving sense of entropy. The grand narrative the end of narratives had had had had no grandiose ending. It is as though in removing its mask the landscape shows on its face an expression one recognizes but is unable to immediately place.

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