There has been renewed talk over the past decade or more in Canadian poetry about the sonnet, but unfortunately, those who do most of the talking tend to be the ones who are simply rewriting the same tired old forms. I’d rather talk about the ones that have brought new and fresh energy into the sonnet, including David McGimpsey, the late Robert Allen, Stephen Brockwell, Peter Norman (his collaborative essay on the sonnet with Brockwell in the form of fourteen sonnets in dialogue has to be seen to be believed) or Montreal poet, critic and musician Jason Camlot in his third poetry collection, The Debaucher (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2008), on the heels of his Attention All Typewriters (Montreal QC: DC Books, 2005) and The Animal Library (Montreal QC: DC Books, 2000). Is there a reason, perhaps, that Zachariah Wells didn’t include Camlot’s work in his anthology of Canadian sonnets, Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets (Bilbioasis, 2008) [see my review of such here]?
Since I have stuck my tongue…
Since I have stuck my tongue in your wet cup,
since I have felt my head between your hands,
since I have sniffed the perfume of your glands,
released into your bloodstream, out your duct,
since I have sniffed the sweet breath of your soul,
since I have sought it, buried in shadows,
since I have loved you as Vincent van Gogh
yearned to love that “model,” Rachel, with his whole
being, so much so he put his own ear
into her hand and said, “Keep this object
carefully.” Since I know you don’t object
to engaging in nightly, oral prayer,
I can tell Time, with his dire ashen cup,
what to do with it, where to shove it up.
After Victor Hugo’s “Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre”
In The Debaucher, Camlot works his sonnets and understands the workings of the form enough to twist. He knows his history, revels in it, but also responds with a bawdy touch, a nod and even the occasional bad joke infused to make these poems more than they otherwise would have been. Camlot exists in the context of a Montreal poetry that includes Irving Layton, Todd Swift, Robert Allen, David McGimpsey, Jon Paul Fiorentino and Peter Van Toorn, wrapping himself up in his blend of influence, classic relation and cultural knowledge, even referencing Beatles lyrics, Jimi Hendrix and Cote St. Luc. Still, not all of the poems here work, and when he moves further away from the sonnet into other forms, the book slips a bit, lags; but the strength of some of these sonnets more than make up for it.
I am writing because I can
I write because I miss knowing you’re here.
I miss your wisdom and debauchery—
the way you liked to redraw the frontier
to suit your purpose, or just to be contrary.
I write because I don’t know you’re not here.
I know it, sure, but I don’t really know
what I know. I expect you to appear
at the threshold of a tabagie in the plateau
and explain what it means that you’re not here.
Explain your protest against the heat death
of your universe, explain in severe
terms the flavours of the waters of Lethe.
I write because some things can’t be buried.
I miss your wisdom and debauchery.
[Jason Camlot reads at the TREE Reading Series in Ottawa on April 14]