Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shane Rhodes, err


Stagger up from caudled cups, fuddled sops
Revive & sway from allsorts pots, debauched sots
Crawl from bar stools & tabletops, soused gutter mops
From grain muck potato hunk grape must sugar lump
From warts washes & hops, you dipsomaniac drunks
From backdoor bathtub bootleg slapbang stillshops
From shady lounges bars & pubs
From ghostly palaces parlours ghastly dives & clubs
Come, whet your whistles tie one on & bever up
With a brew of purl sack hock polque flip & junk
For you, tipsy tipple hogs & potationist punks
I tap the kegs barrels pipes & butts
I tip the flagons noggins flasks & jugs
For you, carousing lot, imbibe a damp a round a go
A schench a nug a squib a rub & a pint of hot
O, drink deep draughts of my wine dark plonk
Swill it swig it sling it toast it tope it toss it
O, glug gulp guzzle knock it back & lap it up
Now, as this firmament ferments for us, rise & slur
O, stumble up to orate & pontificate
From the faint fog, sway to ornate & obfuscate
Concicial mates, to oraculate & equivocate, o rise
Intoxicants, rise up & speak
For his fourth trade poetry collection, err (Gibsons BC: a blewointment book, Nightwood Editions, 2011), former Alberta and current Ottawa poet Shane Rhodes has received a local near-infamy for the “gimmick” of some of the poems [see Douglas Barbour's review of same, here], offering to write poems for breweries, wineries, pubs and other purveyors of drink in exchange for those same drinks. Is this expanding what poems can possibly do, or is this something else, selling out, perhaps? It's an argument as old as art itself, from the Bard, William Shakespeare producing plays for the wealthy in exchange for money, goods and services, or Moby gaining name-recognition through his songs sold to television advertising. What does it mean, what does it matter? Considering the businesses solicited apparently were offered no editorial interference, the whole argument becomes moot; they're Rhodes' poems, after all. But how good are they, and what are they accomplishing?

From his earlier trade collections—The Wireless Room (2000), Holding Pattern (2002) and The Bindery (2007), all produced by Edmonton's NeWest Press—to this, the tight lyric lines of Rhodes' poems have become more acrobatic, tumbling lines that reveal a healthy looseness to his language, and phrases turning far faster than he ever had before. Citing four sections in his “Table of Discontents” —“Spirits,” “Bodies,” “The Cloud Chamber” and “Dark Matters”—Rhodes revels in the language of drink, even quoting from one of the finest beer-poems Canadian literature has produced, Al Purdy's “At the Quinte Hotel,” at the beginning of his “Droughts – A Beer-Inspired Miscellany,” a poem that begins with #100 (for Ottawa's Hogsback Vintage Lager) and counts down, perhaps drunkenly falling, only down to #97 (for Beaus Brewery).
for Steam Whistle Brewery

Labour is the old complaint, cold is the other.
For thirty-six years, I've stared down dirt
to my father's land-locked eyes:
grit that grinds with the reek
of rock bits and life ends,
the oiled sheen of his pint-sized hands
day deep in the guts of diesel machines
for the flash of grain futures on TV screens
and the itch of augured seed.

Listen, son,
work will break your back,
muddle your mind
and smelter your mettle
while you empty the bank
to put bread on the table.
Death is the easiest harvest,
the rest is market
where governments sell us
and buyers starve us.

My fathers and mothers under the loam
hitched to a common harness.
Rhodes, over the course of the collection, provides not an uncritical gaze of drink as well, hardly glorifying, but the bad with the good, when things perhaps go to far. Perhaps the only unfortunate function of this attention his book is receiving to his poems on drink is the distraction away from other subjects dealt with in the collection, writing poems on AIDS and other non-drink related topics. Still, the playfulness of the entire collection abounds, madly off in all directions, far more obvious play than in any of his previous works, yet Rhodes seems at his cartwheeling best when all that energy is contained, somewhat, and directed in shorter, smaller bursts, such as in the eight-part poem “Shooters.” Subtitled “postcard poems from the Americas,” it combines a couple of Rhodes' interests, from drink to his Latin American travels, ending the sequence with:
8 Pisco

A massive steel beam is moved by a crane stencilled with the capital letters IOTA.

A man crouched on his haunches paints a chain-link fence with rust-coloured paint.

A woman rinses her mouth with water carried in pipes of copper mined from the open pits of Chuquicamata.

In the smoke from smelter #8, Maria and Co. incorporate.

At a meeting of the syndicata, a Codelco man raises his hand feeling a sudden secondary syphilitic stigmata.

He seconds the pain of Santiago.

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