Friday, July 07, 2006

Jason Christie's Canada Post


The poem puts us into battle. Language versus. A landscape emerges amongst the words, nations between the letters, earths the pristine page into your heart's content: Let mud slowly bleed into the poem's veins. Nature versus. X equals a jetty, an extension of the nation into the sea, a skeleton, a linebread, scaffold, land, gift, an address, atitle, a deed. Keep me safe from the poem. As though it rained. Rain. (p 13)
With Jason Christie's first trade collection Canada Post now published by Montreal's Snare Books (an imprint of Montreal's Matrix magazine, and edited/published by Jon Paul Fiorentino and Robert Allen), it makes trade books this year by all three of the Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2005) editors: Christie, angela rawlings and derek beaulieu. One of two books out with the new Snare Books, Christie's Canada Post is a lovely collection of short pieces by one of the crew built up in Calgary over the past ten years in/around filling Station, dANDelion magazine, housepress and other activities come through and out of various of the University of Calgary writer/professors and creative writing classes. Writing from points of various quirks and gradient leaps, Christie's Canada Post makes reading a more difficult and socially-engaged deliberate act, writing poem and nation as a combination of lyric possibility and impossibility, slamming the two ideas headlong into each other.


Have some
turkey with
sweet potatoes.

Now you and I
are conquerors.

This is our
poem. (p 41)
When considering the recent contexts of Calgary, think Fred Wah, who retired from the University of Calgary a few years ago (to return to Vancouver); think Aritha Van Herk; think Christian Bök who started teaching there a couple of years ago. Think of so many other writers that have been through town such as Nicole Markotic, Jonathan Wilcke, Louis Cabri, Nathalie Simpson. Think of who is still there, currently: derek beaulieu, Julia Williams, Tom Muir, Rajinderpal Pal, Natalee Caple, Jessica Grant, Suzette Mayr, Chris Ewart, ryan fitzpatrick and Ian Samuels, among so many others. As impressive as the community of writers and activity in Calgary is, there is still that divide, as fitzpatrick writes in an editorial in a recent issue of filling Station number 38):

[…] but why should it be? fS cannot act as a wiki ― it is an extremely mediated space with a very specific history in a very specific place. Though there are ruptures in our local community in terms of poetics ― the poets associated with Single Onion or the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival are very different in poetic than most of the writers associated with filling Station or dANDelion ― a community of socially-engaged and innovative writers have been fostered here that cannot be ignored. filling Station was born out of the crucible of the formation of this poetic orientation. In 1994, a number of students at the University of Calgary formed fS out of a desire to make a space that would mediate the divide between the lyric conservatism of Chris Wiseman's poetry workshop and the innovative poetic of Fred Wah's workshop. In 2005, the magazine is left with a similar divide but one that may not be able to be bridged.

Instead of acting as a meeting place to tie the local literary ideologies together (filling Station is decidedly interested in the innovative), fS is interested in negotiating the divide between the local and the national by giving exposure not just to local writers but exposing writers from elsewhere to our community. […] Approaching the magazine in this way rather than with a vacant "publish everything" mindset will hopefully support not just a community but a critically minded community. A community interested in not just a poetics of reflection or a poetics of action, but a poetics of praxis and of change. (p 3, "editorial")
Writing in two threads of alternating sections, from "PAST ORAL" to "PAST AURAL," they alternate from the "PAST ORAL" sections of "i. Metathesis," "ii. Revelry. Correspondences," "iii. Spring Tension," "iv. Make Fire" and "v. An Emotional Database" and the "PAST AURAL" sections of "i. anamnesis suite," "ii. short terse poems," "iii. neutrino (means little one" and "iv. swerve" (a reference to Calgary spoken-word diva Sheri-D Wilson, anyone?), and opening the collection with two separate quotes by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer quoting both the "hi-fi system" and "lo-fi" soundscapes. What are the differences Christie is alternating between?

And a mountain's edge,
tectonic cleft trebles,
aeroscopic field notes,
play the flax landscape.
Bass viewed from a plane
sideways, or Charlie
syntagmatically drops
not a shift or a shrift, but
that keen target slides
for acumen, hides
whitehoused behind
missals or missives in
a bizarre cardboard box. (p 88)
Writing between sound and space, I like the way Christie's language troubles the expectations of phrases, working against meaning and into further meaning, citing reference only to twist it into otherwise-familiar forms, as in the poem "Auctoritas."

He makes a fire
and watches TV.

The headlines are
behind the times.

I waste it while
I watch tv.

The USA created
the super power vacuum.

In order to feel secure
go stand in the light.

The child's box
is in the pen.

One of the seals
in my car leaks.

Penguins flew from
Pittsburgh to Toronto.

He helps an old lady
across to the GAP.

In order to feel secure
go stand on the right.

While in school
wear something reflective.

Even when you move
you never really unparsed.

Learning to derive
is an automotive process.

Don't end your sentence
with a preposition. (pp 83-4)
Part of the consideration of Christie's Canada Post is in the incomplete quality of some of the poems, where parts of many of them end before they truly end. I'm a big fan of both incompleteness and process in any consideration of writing, but how much is too much is not enough? Can something so incompletely incomplete be considered a complete work? It's something that has been echoed in two different blog posts by Canadian expat Sina Queyras, where she writes:
Some poems seem to have achieved that 20-something bed-head feel: you know, the irristable [sic] look of a thing that has such sublime bone structure and shape no matter what it's wearing there is a spine of pleasure. Others however, fall flat. The off-hand, and slight-of-mind, the pun that is not quite pun enough. Poems such as the one titled "Gallop Poll," that consists of the single line: Fuck off! or "Game vs. Real":

There are typos
all over the word.

There are just a few too many like this. And this play doesn’t seem poem enough--not for this reader in any case. At least not yet. Which makes me consider what one should expect from a first book, or indeed any book.
I think in the end I have to agree with Queyras (and her follow-up post here). I do very much like many of the pieces in this collection, and work by him generally, but still wonder: is the seeming incompleteness of the book Canada Post as a unit the point, or was the collection simply not ready yet? Is it simply something that I as a reader don’t get?

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