Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Ogress Oblige

2001, KRUPSKAYA: San Francisco, $14.95 CAN / $10.95 US
distributed in Canada by Arsenal Pulp Press
64 pages, isbn# 1 928650 11 2

Jack Spicer ruined hell for the rest of us.
(p 16, "Lumpen Prole By Choice - A Novel In Arias")

Already in its second printing is Dorothy Trujillo Lusk’s Ogress Oblige. One of Vancouver’s more interesting language writers, engaged with some of the people and work surrounding Vancouver’s Kootenay School of Writing, Ogress Oblige collects pieces written over the last few years, included in such places as the chapbook Sleek Vinyl Drill (2000, Thuja Books: Vancouver), Open Letter, Raddle Moon, The Gig, and the late lamented Boo (the magazine that existed between the previous Kootenay School’s Writing, and current incarnation, W). Her first collection of new work in years, since Redactive (1992, Talonbooks: Vancouver), reprinted in part in the anthology Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology (2001, New Star Books: Vancouver), the poems in Ogress Oblige write among language and culture, single-parenthood, arias, apocrypha and vulgarity. A mix of issues, Lusk’s work abounds with circumstance and happenstance.

If I could concentrate on my own provenance

I might just get a long poem.

Working the strange tensions between the "ogress" and obliging factors, Lusk twists the language and language theory of her surroundings into readable baffles, unwilling to play by any of "their" rules. Written in verbal assault (with references that abound), the poems in Ogress Oblige wring with sly anger and severe wit. "Be that as my intention remains, muster grubbly manifold. / Inherent poetics will out." (p 36, "Sleek Vinyl Drill"), or

All hail the crushed amber groin of Late Capital refines
within extant character

That nothing will pleasure
any more
or any less.
(p 24, "Vulgar Marxism")

A smart and deceptive collection of poems, Ogress Oblige spares no-one, awash with verbal play and guttural speech, tackling social issues and whatever else gets in her way. “That which / we here embellish / is the fit of permanence” (p 23, "LET MY VOICE THUD THROUGHOUT / THE LAND").
(originally appeared in RAIN TAXI)

Jill Hartman, A Painted Elephant
2003, Coach House Books, 106 pages
isbn 1-55245-117-8, $16.95

what is it about first dates we all think we know don’t we? makes a
difference when you are an elephant, might make the ferris wheel quite
dangerous. all the cotton candy in the world can’t counterbalance a mass
like thunderclouds, a presence like the absence
...........of all sunlight
(p 71, "enamelled red and gold upholstered cars")

A Painted Elephant, the first trade collection by Calgary writer Jill Hartman, reads an an opera in eight parts, built from snippets of story and myth around the elephant, as the narrator, a "lonely Dutch elephant" in the Calgary Zoo, escapes repeatedly, and, as the back cover tells us, is "made to suffer a thirty-day quarantine in which she meditates on the true meaning of pachyderm love." Part of a crew of new(er) writers to emerge out of Calgary over the last few years, along with Julia Williams, JC Wilcke, Jason Christie, Ian Samuels, ryan fitzpatrick and Darren Matthies, through publications such as (orange), Yard, filling station, the new dANDelion, and PHU-online, Hartman releases her first collection with Coach House Books with another Calgarian, housepress publisher derek beaulieu, whose visual/text collection is with wax.

Hartman’s elephant is variously painted in different passages throughout, shifting in colour, in the room we can never mention, whether the white of IKEA sales and Ernest Hemingway’s hills, or coloured a pink seen only after a liberal amount of drink (and Dumbo’s hallucinatory dance). As she writes, "drown in rose petals. red satin tongues / speak in / romance // courtly language, courting love /// one woos the other" (p 22). Throughout the text, Hartman quotes other Canadian poets, Roy Kiyooka, Lisa Robertson and Robin Blaser, to weave a complicated puzzle of phrases, fractions, faux-news articles of elephant sightings in Calgary, and other threads to produce a collection on a Dutch elephant as Alberta myth, or dream: "she dreams of clarified air [...] a newborn elephant sleeps / in the shade of her mother’s body." (p 64).

Hartman pulls a number of cultural references on the elephant out of the air, the clouds, in the story of the doomed affair between the lonely elephant and Maytag Man statue on Calgary’s 9th Avenue: "the lonely dutch elephant talks to him lifts / the beard away from his face so he can talk / back // he looks back across 9th avenue [...] snow angels drop snowflakes on her lashes" (p 75). Experimenting without sacrificing meaning, or reading as trick for the sake of trick, A Painted Elephant reads in a number of interesting directions, and makes her debut, in the form of Dutch pachyderm opera, a joy to read.
(originally appeared in WORD)