Thursday, March 22, 2012

VERMIN, Lance La Rocque


The poet establishes that which endures
But nothing endures
God reaches arms up from the earth
Calipers to pin your neck and stretch your head
Time and space –
Elbow grease and silly putty
Considering how long his name has been around in small publishing, I admit I’m amazed that VERMIN (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011), is Wolfville, Nova Scotia writer Lance La Rocque’s first trade poetry collection. La Rocque has had work appearing in journals and small publications for years, including in various of jwcurry’s ongoing publishing enterprises and through Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press, among others. 

La Rocque has long been considered part of a loose-group of surrealists that emerged in the 1980s, centred in Toronto, alongside Alice Burdick, Gary Barwin, Stuart Ross, Lillian Necakov, Gil Adamson, Kevin Connolly, Steve Venright, Mark Laba and Daniel f. Bradley, among others. 

A few years ago, editor Ross celebrated (and cemented) the loose-group of poets in the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian poets under the influence (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2004). As Ross writes in his introduction to the anthology:
Such is the range of this small anthology: there are those here who feel they are writing a pure Surrealism, and even live the philosophy, and others who absorbed their surreal content through other sources: the Burroughs wing of the Beats, magic realism, Language poetry, the New York Poets, and neo-surrealists and absurdists like Joe Rosenblatt and Opal Louis Nations.

I have a sneaking suspicion that one big reason surrealist writing is taboo is because humour is taboo. If you’re being funny, you can’t be a serious poet. You can’t be worth studying in university. But also, we live in a society that respects control, power, and conscious decision (to invade sovereign countries, destroy natural environments, guzzle natural resources, etc.). Those of us who embrace the possibilities of randomness, absurdism, chance, error, and the unconscious are happily out of step.
For his own contribution to the anthology’s section of author manifestos, La Rocque included a poem (curiously not included in the current collection):
I must clear the room of pencils.
I must eat cabbage in some style before every poem.
I must sharpen three to seven wooden spoons.
No plastics, no stainless steel, no more immortal utensils!
I must be sure I can see you once every three weeks
(Fridays are no good).
I will succeed at every poem, I know, if only
I can sustain the state of perfect paranoia.

Everyone is watching.
Even the objects are eyes.
Eyes off my instruments, yes!
(At times, I take a tape recorder
and ambush my organs.)
You’ll have to agree, surely, by my systems, I am on the verge
of becoming a great success.
One can only hope such “great success” is forthcoming. As Ross suggests in his introduction, La Rocque’s poems are rife with ironic twists and humour in straight, surreal lines. VERMIN is a collection of poems that exist as small essay-narratives, or small sequential thoughts. Composing poems that reflect and critique capitalism, to poems on his children, these are small poems that encompass and encapsulate large matters. There are echoes here in La Rocque’s surreal and abstract domestic moments more in tune with some of the works of Hamilton writer Gary Barwin, say, than the more outrageous narratives of Stuart Ross, which is interesting in itself. I’m curious to know, given the length and breadth of his publishing history (intermittent, but relatively steady), if this collection is exclusively the result of the past few years, or if there are poems here that might stretch back a decade or two?

Your voice sails
Over my head
And circles back
Like a little bird
With sharp black eyes
And a ruthless beak

Sinking the needle unselfconsciously into my ear
For blood or worms.
For some visceral gem
I claim not to have
Or would not reveal.

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