Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gil McElroy's Last Scattering Surfaces

In his ongoing poetic project involving the small moment and the small turn, Gil McElroy’s [see his 12 or 20 questions here] third trade poetry collection, Last Scattering Surfaces (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2007), works almost a poetry combining Paris, Ontario poet Nelson Ball, the late American poet Robert Creeley, and the poetry of Toronto writer Christopher Dewdney in terms of form and language.
RAMEAU’S NEPHEW

Mornings,
hatless between the fingers,
blinded
by syncopations.

His tiny feet,
he lets them
catch up, hums
in allegro with all the metric pattern
of crabs.

My music,
I always like to make it
tick.
Broken up into five parts, the third is part of an ongoing sequence called “Julian Days,” each included as a section in his trade collections, starting with Dream Pool Essays (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2001) and continuing with NonZero Definitions (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2004). In an interview I did with him back in 2002 (published online (but now missing) in The Drunken Boat), he talked about his writing as a whole, and his “Julian Days”:
I suppose I’ve never had the opportunity to see my books as fitting in together in a larger picture. It took so very long for my first book to come out, and there were many variations on its contents as I pulled it apart and reassembled it while seeking a publisher for many a year.

I do, however, see some continuity – a thread, if you will – running through what I hope will be the books to come. It has, of course, to do mainly with my interests in the serial poem, and “The Julian Days” sequences that form a section of Dream Pool Essays and the newly completed manuscript with the working title of Nonzero Definitions. With no beginning or end to the larger whole that is the sequence, I think it forms the central core of the books around which the other sections much orbit and interact.
Each poem in the “Some Julian Days” sequence works a small fragmented poem on some aspect referencing McElroy’s daily life, but without the familiar temporal markers to place them (unless the reader actually knows the Julian calendar, which seems, on the whole, somewhat unlikely).
Large
by size
& metre, he
has solved well, he
has been strong enough, pulling
upward, not
settling
down

just as fluids
do (“2447184,” from “Some Julian Days”)
Then, in the same sequence, he manages to contradict himself slightly, placing some of these pieces in his more recent Ontario, where he has lived for the past few years, just outside Colborne, and sub-titling some of these piece “from A Colborne Psalter.” According to one on-line dictionary source, a “psalter” is “A book containing the Book of Psalms or a particular version of, musical setting for, or selection from it.” I am intrigued; I’d like to know more about McElroy’s slight shift in considerations for his “Julian Days” series, and where the project “A Colborne Psalter” might be going. Just what is it about that stretch between Toronto and Kingston, just north of the 401 Highway, does McElroy equate with praise, a kind of singing?
Listen
to us,
who, guided,
wait, re-
collecting
our vital
heat

who,
waking,
shall clear away the branches
& so see up, toward the full
Moon

who will
sound/who will
hear

who will
feed you/who will
fill you
up, open,
up (“2452827 / from A Colborne Psalter,” from “Some Julian Days”)
As Michael Ondaatje quoted Jack Spicer (who, I believe, coined the term “serial poem”) in his introduction to the first Long Poem Anthology (1979), the poems can no better live by themselves than we can, and it seems that McElroy’s poems are perhaps some of the finest testaments to that statement.

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