Friday, February 08, 2008

The Shovel by Colin Browne


something nosing about in the dry arbutus leaves at dawn
something trying to get through the fence
Vancouver writer and documentary filmmaker Colin Browne’s most recent publication is the large and magnificent The Shovel (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2007). A continuation of book-projects that have included Abraham (London ON: Brick Books, 1997) and the Governor-General’s Award shortlisted title Ground Water (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2002), Browne seems to work less a series of books as whole units of compositions than as containers that everything gets placed in; each book is certainly built and conceived as a single unit, but one that ends up encompassing poetry, fiction and theory. These don’t seem like books he could work on concurrently; there is too much of everything included.
A Square Sonnet

A square is what I long to see on miles
and miles of dark road. Mirrored window, eye
to eye or eyed from patches of dark blue glass,
the light pulls (yanks) me forward. Silk is a liquid
mirror suspended from ice. Don’t you yearn for
pain to rouze your senses?
The song she took the high road on is not
a cricket’s song; my lover’s lips are sweeter
and sadder. What if the world is tuned to plum
or quince? A heaven on earth, and sweet at night
beneath the moon? I fall upon the grasses,
old songs abide, I’m possessed. Roots
redden in me. I approach,
trailing lilac, and fall to my knees.
I thee kiss, my earth, my beloved.
Browne’s work follows a poetics that are influenced by those of Robin Blaser [see my note on him here], George Bowering [see his 12 or 20 questions here] and Fred Wah, as well as through his early editorial work during some of the first years of Vancouver’s The Capilano Review. The most wonderful part of The Shovel isn’t the fact that it, like his two previous books are a combination of poetry (despite all three titles living in that single category), fiction and essays, but exist somehow beyond the confinement of genre, into books of writing, somehow freed of the constraints of genre with an ease that diminishes any argument of boundary between genres. The Shovel is some near-two hundred pages of writing that is not so much thinking as actual thought, including the marvellous non-fiction (or, perhaps, fiction?) piece, “Roland Barthes in the Kootenays,” written for the Fred Wah/Pauline Butling conference at the University of Calgary a few years back [see my note on such here], talking about the famous thinker wandering through the interior. Imagine, Roland Barthes travelling the country with a copy of Fred Wah’s Pictograms from the Interior of B.C. (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1975) with him, no less.
So, I got into my car and drove out to the Cranbrook airport. There had been a terrible accident there, if you remember, a scheduled flight had plunged into the runway a few months earlier. I was already imagining the headlines: ROLAND BARTHES DIES IN FIERY CRASH AT CRANBROOK AIRPORT! The name might not have been featured so prominently in the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, but somewhere else it would have. And as I drove out past the little farms and the clumps of spindly larch, I wondered—how would recognize him? How will I know it’s him when I see Roland Barthes in the Cranbrook Airport? I got there early and I was waiting, I was marking student essays, and I guess I had become preoccupied with the novel contractions of that region because it was a surprise to find a shortish man suddenly standing before me wearing a grey suit and a clear plastic raincoat. I must have given him a startled look.

‘For transparency,’ he said, and smiled broadly.
With his previous poetry collection up for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, hopefully this new book will also get some of the attention that Browne’s work deserves. So much of Browne’s writing manages to think of poetry in different ways and numerous directions, including this piece, both riffing off and dedicated, again, to Wah.
it is my

I hear,

music at
the heart of

a shy

that cracked
a lion’s heart. (“Carlyle Square”)

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