Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Matthew Holmes' Hitch

I've been watching and waiting some time for poet Matthew Holmes' first trade poetry collection, Hitch (Gibson's Landing BC: Nightwood / blewointment press, 2006) [see my previous note on his "GHAZAL OF JULY STORM" here]. A former resident of Ottawa and Toronto, Holmes currently lives in Sackville, New Brunswick where he is Chief Inspector of "the bad repoesy Mfg. Company," which produces both the zine Modomnoc and the 1928 press (producing lovely letterpress chapbooks and broadsheets, although I haven’t seen any in quite some time), as well as reviews editor for Ottawa's own Arc magazine. Author of a number of small publications from both his 1928 press and above/ground press, Holmes' poems are wonderfully ghazal-like in their soft, surreal leaps and open links, like riding a small series of waves off into the sea. In this collection of graceful and beautiful short poems, it would be difficult to quote from every piece that jumps out, because it would make me quote from nearly every page.


Samuel Marchbanks' daughter
rubbed coal dust into her labia before
sneaking out the back for the night

she pulled her dad's beard
and give him a snow job
making sure the cold got down his shirt

she wrote nasty letters to the editor
signed them from her teachers
their wives, their lovers

she showed the neighbours her ass
flattened into the panes of the kitchen window
as white as the February light

she walked the back alley in her fur coat
hanging her father's underwear
on everyone else's line. (p 50)

Continuing the tradition of publishing new and inventive work through their renewed blewointment press imprint [see my note on the first book in this series, Jay MillAr's False Maps for Other Creatures here]; as the back cover writes, "bill bissett's blewointment press/magazine was a seminal component of Canada's burgeoning literary scene in the 1960s and 70s, publishing work by authors such as bissett, bpNichol, Steve McCaffery, Patrick Lane, Margaret Avison, Earle Birney, Margaret Atwood, Milton Acorn, d.a.levy, jwcurry, and Gerry Gilbert, among many others. bissett sold the press in 1982 and it was soon renamed Nightwood Editions. Nightwood is proud of its heritage, continuing to publish the compelling work of writers who embody the Canadian small-press ethic." There is something interesting and even entertaining watching publisher/editor Silas White producing books through both his regular Nightwood Editions and blewointment press that have completely different aesthetics to them, to the point of nearly contradicting; so many publishers are only capable of producing one type of work, and this one has managed to be one of the few opening up that standard. As well, this is one of the few books I've seen that thanks, among others, jwcurry on the inside, as Holmes generously writes in his "ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS," "The energy of the people behind the small presses and small magazines in Canada is impossible to measure. I am humbled to be publishing this book of poetry under the blewointment imprint, and proud of Nightwood Editions for honouring the small press tradition in this way. bill bissett, bp Nichol, jwcurry and others proved that the vitality of Canadian letters was in the small. I think it still is." (p 94).


When they built the trans-Canada
canal, the critics were everywhere—

citing the virtue of concrete over water,
asking why reinvent the wheel?

but the country mobilized
around an idea of slowtide cargo:

the Atlantics said they would conceive
the harbours, turn oceans to rivers,

Upper and Lower announced that they had already
done enough, with their lakes and waterways,

the Prairies set ploughs to furrow
a new bank of commerce, and

the West, though slow to agree to locks
through the Rockies, had to admit

the beauty of waterfalls
turned over. (p 38)

The collection ends with a series of poems on knots, the fourteen-part title poem "hitch," writing a series of poems that each correspond to a visual of a particular knot. With all the visuals scattered throughout the book, this has to be one of the most attractive poetry collections I've seen in a while, with the surreal softness of the physical book itself corresponding completely with the text, including the five headers at the beginning of each section, one for each letter of the book's title.


When I first learnt to sail / we untied knots
after soaking our hands in buckets of ice / mimicking rivers
until we couldn’t feel them

fingers stupid / thick
watching them / without the conduit of the spine

unresponsive lovers (p 77)

Where Holmes finds his greatest strength is in the small moment, the small image that washes over through just how well its brevity is kept, and put together, in strange humour and a quick wit. Underplaying instead of overplaying, I couldn’t recommend this book more, and can do little more than simply let the work speak for itself (far better than I ever could). I wait for "baited" breath, hooked, for what happens next.


The crow this morning has swallowed a kazoo
and croaks out his neighbourhood watchings,

angles his eye in hard malpeque circles,
cups you in his palm, flies and cuts you at the hinge;

the song a broken, silly one. Something
has opened the garbage bags onto the sidewalks;

I realize I have never imagined a crow as woman,
only a woman as crow. The rain has just started. (p 61)

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