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Sunday, March 01, 2009

an old poem embedded in thoughts on stephen brockwell

Around 2001, I started riffing poems off a concept pilfered from George Bowering’s poetry collection, Curious (Coach House Press, 1973). In his collection, he wrote his as a series of poems on other poets, I added an element, and started writing poems on other poet’s stuff (I think the first was written after a short reading tour with Andy Weaver, as he wore a borrowed shirt from Robert McTavish in Calgary). As I wrote around the same time, is there a difference? Part of the appeal was in attempting a kind of “recommended reading” list of authors, each working some kind of thread of the author’s own voice. Does it matter if you know the particular author, or what it is they’ve written? Hopefully not; the art without the essay should still make for great art, but instead, the extra information should add to the experience.

Stephen Brockwell's notes

towards a poem short that may take
years to solve, lone dictum
under black elastic.
who else would have known
to write a meditation
two lines thick from twenty
just to score them further
down to one?
precision is the answer, &
the question, here. what else
would be intention,
logging notebook miles
from international flights, a laptop
full of creature noise
& blackberry, logic bliss
between the notes
that ring out rare
& as determined
as any John Cage opus.
it would not matter, books are made
by human minds & bodies
who sit down, & know
how to listen. reordering chaos
into other chaos, order, Brockwell
writes his days into other days,
such a small fraction
out of human history. rotates
his wrist & think
to dust.

This is part of a manuscript of poems called “Apertures,” second in a series of response volumes I’ve been working on for more than a decade, after the other side of the mouth (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2003), with a third volume-in-progress, “variations: plunder verse.” I’ve heard the argument before that all writing is written in response to other writing, but where does the work go once it’s composed more overtly as a response, more obvious?

I’m intrigued at the idea of taking a thread of my own writing and blowing it up, partly to see where it will end up, and partly to get a particular thread out of my system, letting the remainder of my writing exist unencumbered, forced to navigate through other waters. When I started writing fiction, for example, the storytelling aspect of my poems reduced, and what was left in the poems shifted. Why continue writing if I am but to repeat my own structures?

In referencing Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell, one of my closest friends, the appeal of writing this short piece was in the amount of times I tried to end a line with the end of a phrase, instead of the usual appeal of the line break within, breaking the line apart. The appeal was, trying to understand something and/or someone better by writing them out. Brockwell’s writing, much like his work as a consultant in the high tech industry, is highly deliberate, highly crafted, and wrapped around lines that don’t have a single accident between words, spaces or ideas. Unlike mine, his poems come from extended periods of copious notes, almost as sketches or studies before the finished work begins. Is this a sketch of Brockwell, or of Brockwell’s poems? Why can’t it be both?

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