Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ongoing notes: late February, 2014

Toronto ON: Composed as “an ekphrasic translation of bpNichol’s ‘Allegories’ (from Love: A Book of Remembrances. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1974)” is Toronto poet and editor Stephen Cain’s Etc Phrases (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013). There have been a small handful of chapbooks released over the past decade or so (including one from above/ground press), but some time since Cain had a trade collection of poetry, back to his third trade collection, American Standard/ Canada Dry (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2005), and his micro-fiction collaboration with Jay MillAr, Double Helix (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2006). Is Cain slowly and quietly working his way up to something, or simply in small, self-contained bursts?

Etc Phrase #16

Ebbing the ineffable.
The phonics of the palimpsest.
Expletive F exclamation.
Floating or floundering.
No horizon line.
B coming or being.
Thorny thrownnes.
E F Geworfenheit.
Still present despite the presence.
Not waving but sounding.

The chapbook intrigues in part through the playful coherence of collisons, pushing phrases against phrases to ascribe an accidental meaning. The thirty-two poem sequence of Etc Phrases makes for a wordy exercise of what jwcurry would refer to as “serious play,” counterpointing other short self-contained units he’s produced as chapbooks over the past few years. Is there a collection of collated units finally forthcoming upon that horizon?

New Jersey: Until now, Ben Fama is a name I’ve heard but never actually read, finally able to go through the poems of his Odalisque (New Jersey: Bloof Books, 2014). The seven poems that make up Odalisque are constructed as accumulations, nearly collage-works that build their individual ways up into a coherent shape, despite the sequence of seemingly-unrelated phrases he uses as building materials. His poems do seem an intriguing blend of collage, random statement and narrative flow, in the Frank O’Hara “I did this, I did that” kind of way, especially through his use of pop culture references. The final poem in the collection, “girlwithcat2.jpg,” even includes shades of what Montreal poet Jon Paul Fiorentino has been playing with the past decade or so, blending pop culture sensibilities and humour with a dark, even pessimistic bent.


Fashion makes me less crazy
It should be looked at
Never discussed
It’s an honest joy
To be shocked by beauty
In the 21st century
I was shocked when my lover was caught stealing
From Dean & Deluca
I was thinking of a line
By Robert Hass
The floor manager stopped us
We simply went to a different store
A requiem for leisure, pleasure, thought
I cannot take your high school friend’s
Hoop earrings seriously
And every picture on my phone is obscene
Seriously, look at it—
All these fucking effetes
Boring travel stories
Details of somebody’s dreams
Champagne condensating
On leather seats
All summer long
I wish I could afford a room
At the Peninsula New York
Suites with TVs above soaking tubs
With city views
And all that sun on Fifth Ave.
I live inside it too
I am at Uniqlo
Buying underwear
And after I paid
I stayed and shopped again
A surprising second erection
After you’ve just finished
And you know it’s time

According to Wikipedia, the term “odalisque” refers to a “female slave or concubine in a Turkish harem, particularly the concubines in the household of the Ottoman sultan.” The title poem in the collection plays off that meaning, exploring ways of seeing and comprehending, and yet, the poem predominantly work through anything but, opening:

There’s a picture of you on my phone
I look at when I’m bored
It’s basically an American Apparel ad
In a world I have access to
I’m looking at it now
Or possibly through it
And listening to “Gymnopédie No. 3”
Sometimes I think it is a perfect song
I wonder what you are going to wear
To this cocktail event
At the Gershwin Hotel
We are going to tonight

Toronto ON: I’m very taken with the musicality of Marianne Morris’ Alphabet Poems (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2014), third in the NEW BRITISH POETS series edited by Stephen Collis and Amy De’Ath [see my review of the first two, here]. This is an intriguing series they’ve taken on, seemingly produced in pairs (Andrea Brady’s Dompteuse is forthcoming), and I would be very interested to hear the editors’ take on the hows and whys of curating such a series. Of Morris’ Alphabet Poems, I’m taken by the rush of the line, and the flow of the words like water, forceful and smooth and unrelenting. Alphabet Poems follows her first trade collection, The On All Said Things Moratorium [see my review of such here], which I would highly recommend. Born in Canada, raised in London, England and currently residing (according to the bio at the back of the chapbook) in Oakland, California, I can only hope that Morris manages to make her way north to perhaps read, as her pieces, as strong as they are on the page, give the impression that they are really meant to be heard to be felt, in full force.


Something of darker mettle, they said. They requested.
Something of darker mettle. Them and their
Wants. Of organized mettle. Fuck you! I said.
Poured frayed panties from the broken neti pot into
The almost empty but resealable bag. Her earth hands.
Bag like I am.
A month on the lips, seventeen years in the hips
The holding-in sounds. The slipping-in sounds.
The groans, loaming archers, swoop low. I know
Them and a plastic container of oiled nuts.
To stop biting
At my own lips
For eighty dollars and a vial of my salt
Which I will replenish with the fat of something dead
So I can eat. A row of exes: x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Morris’ “alphabet” is expansive, complex and richly textured. And it’s hard not to be charmed by the table of contents, especially when you sound out the titles, reading in order: “WON,” “TO,” “FREE,” “FOR,” “FIVE FLEE WITH SWORDS AND TWO REMAIN BEHIND,” “SEX” and so on.

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