Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Jay MillAr, False Maps for Other Creatures
2005, Nightwood Editions / blewointmentpress, $16.95 / $13.95 US
96 pages, isbn 0-88971-203-4

Easily the most interesting of his three trade collections, Toronto poet Jay MillAr’s False Map for Other Creatures is also the first in the rejuvenated blewointmentpress series published by Nightwood Editions. Giving kudos to its own history, editor/publisher Silas White has re-started the blewointmentpress series to focus on more experimental works, publishing one per season alongside the regular Nightwood Edition titles. blewointmentpress, started in the 1960s, was poet/publisher bill bissett’s own publishing house after he left Very Stone House (run with Patrick Lane and Seymour Mayne), publishing experimental works such as his own, David UU, bpNichol, Judith Copithorne and other works that didn’t have too many publishing options otherwise. Publishing books, chapbooks and anthologies, he ran it until the 1980s; bissett sold the press, which was quickly renamed Nightwood Editions, and the press fell into the hands of Howard White (who owns/runs Harbour Publishing)(a version of the history of the press is also at the back of MillAr’s collection). Since Howard gave the reins to his son Silas a few years ago, Nightwood Editions has come back from a near-non-existence, focusing on the works of newer writers such as Laisha Rosnau, A.J. Levin, Joe Denham, Adam Getty, Ray Hsu and multiple others. A series I might not always agree with, he always manages to somehow make good looking books that are seen and talked about, a rare thing in itself in Canadian small publishing.

In MillAr’s newest collection [Jay MillAr reads at mother tongue books on October 14th, and is participating in the ottawa small press book fair the following day], following reams of self-published works under Boondoggle Books and BookThug, and his trade collections The Ghosts of Jay MillAr (Coach House Books, 2000) and Mycological Studies (Coach House Books, 2002), he has pulled back from the large canvas and focused more on the smaller one. A Southwestern Ontario boy, some of MillAr’s newest collection is influenced not only by oblique references to The Black Donnellys and the late London, Ontario painter Greg Curnoe, but his own work in environmental studies, as he writes in his “some notes and thanks” at the end of the collection, “Dr. Douglas Morris of the Biology department at Lakehead University also unknowingly provided a great deal of influence on this book by hiring me to collect data for a long-term population study on white-footed mice in South Western Ontario, which I have done since 1992.”

I used to think
it cut through
to interrupt

the dying, and
dying was some
thing to interrupt

everything
balanced
by sky and

earth forced
so close and
easily far apart

muffled to cut
small lives
within ourselves

creatures who
remember the
mechanics of the hive

who witness
young shoots cut
the older growth

and make
their way
inside (p. 30, Green)

Further in his “notes,” MillAr writes, “I also need to thank Hazel, Reid and Cole for being so supportive of my ongoing quest for ‘useless’ poetry, which can sometimes be to the point of preoccupation, but they know I really was present during the camping trips documented herein – I want to thank them for bringing the spirit of those trips back to our life in the city.” I’m interested in the idea of writing poetry more ‘useless’ than other poetry, or if he considers that, for the sake of family, poetry is as ‘useless’ as the rest of us have been told for years. Or is this a matter of finding a poem that can achieve less than a poem usually does? Is this another example of focusing on something so small and insignificant that it becomes so much larger?

CANOE

once water
rounds weather

a wind
in sects

the
butterfly

sun or
beam

turn slow (p. 56)

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