After announcing themselves with no small amount of fanfare, Vancouver’s Rahlia’s Ghost Press opens with their first round of chapbook titles, all three of which appear to be chapbook debuts: Jake Byrne, The Tide (2017), Megan Fennya Jones, Normal Women (2017) and Beni Xiao, Bad Egg (2017). Produced as gracefully designed limited-edition perfect-bound softcovers, by the time I saw copies of these chapbooks, all three were already in their second printings.
There is a brashness to these three collections I quite enjoyed, one that each poet utilizes to announce themselves as self-aware, self-confident and completely present. If this is how they begin, this is a press that will easily be producing multiple works that require your attention (much in the way Montreal’s Metatron has already been doing for a couple of years now). And the same for these three poets; there might be some rough or loose elements to some of this work, but all three writers here are worth your attention, especially for what they might end up doing next.
These push notifications unpushed.
Hard boiled eggs smashed on a silver tray.
Our mutual friends admitted you were dying.
All life is subject to potential hazards.
Some more evident than others.
Millions struck blind.
I could ruin you.
Eating roots and twigs.
I saw a man with his torso almost severed.
He was still alive.
I did not stop to help. I wanted
To find my mother in the rubble
Before the tide went out.
Montreal poet Jake Byrne’s The Tide is a chapbook-length lyric suite that writes on the crumbling of civilization, and a tide that exists as both destroyer and potential cleanser, removing the potential and possibilities of violence, cruelty and disease. Opening with a quote by Lisa Robertson – “You’ll go to a place that is crumbling in order to watch civilization fall.” – his poem begins: “This is personal as eschatological. // We lost Miami and Riga in the opening salvo. // We lost friends on both sides [.]” Exploring ideas of truth, confession and trauma, Byrne’s poem works to wash away the sins of the world, articulating into words what only then can be properly removed.
A POEM IS A DEATH WISH
This is how George Lucas must have felt about Star Wars: Special Edition.
The film was a flop. Even amongst his cult following amongst fans everywhere: it was doomed.
An untethered spacewalker—useless fumbling
of giant gloved hands
in unending dark—
hurling itself at
at other asteroids.
Vancouver poet Megan Fennya Jones’ Normal Women is a collection of short lyrics that work to get to the heart of things, working to explore and dismantle the smallest moments and ideas, kicking and searching and confident. As she writes in the poem “BLACK LAKE”: “It’s true that I am inwardly / screaming. I make my heart / into a black lake.” Or, in the poem “ON BEAUTY”: “We are not afraid / of anything.” Although I might question the argument of her short poem “CANLIT”—“In America I hear / writers are plentiful, / beautiful and important. / There are gymnasiums full / of writers publishing real work / and getting money.” (I suspect part of that is the fact of their population being ten times ours and the fact that Canadian media doesn’t discuss dollar figures as easily for successful literary writers)—the poems in this collection twist and turn with a narrative speed enough to injure one’s neck.
before we even dated Jose told me he had a dream about San Francisco and me
I’m thinking about how dreams never really make sense
Like maybe it was San Francisco but San Francisco is a symbol for hotdogs and maybe it was me but I am a symbol for me eating hotdogs
Jose and I dated for almost 2 years before we broke up but anyways please dream about me eating hotdogs
I still want that
Vancouver poet Beni Xiao’s Bad Egg is a collection of exuberant first-person lyrics with the patter and patterns of texts, composed with the energy of a tweet, and titles that reference pop culture and the complicated measures of how we address each other, such as “Dear God, Can I Have A Designer Purse?,” “apocalypse poem no. 1: a list of thoughts and questions i will wish i had asked somebody before the apocalypse” and “in semester one i watch Buffy in her white dress kill the Master but i still can’t get out of bed [.]” In many ways, this feels the less polished title of the trio, but Xiao’s energy, intelligence and wit sparkle through with enormous potential, enough to allow for a “wait-and-see” on their writing. And how could anyone not love a poem, such as “conditions of staying alive,” that begins:
if you love some don’t give them your heart
i suggest a kidney that way if they
leave you you aren’t heartless
or heartbroken you have a backup kidney