Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Laundromat Essay by Kyle Buckley

The closest equivalent I can think to Toronto poet Kyle Buckley’s first poetry collection, The Laundromat Essay (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008) is to some of the experiments in online hyperlink poetry, a 1990s form that, for the most part, didn’t really go anywhere, one word or a phrase moving off into another direction, another poem (think, too, of those “choose your own adventure” novels you used to read as a kid). In this piece, the first thing you notice is the structure, and the second is the worry that it’s all a trick with no substance, before seeing the poem for its leagues of depth, for what it is. This is a poem that turns back on itself, with the poem on page thirty-nine reading:

The suit was hanging a little high up on my wall, but I needed something to wear, so I got a small ladder out to get it down. The ladder was around because of the work I was doing around my apartment, while my clothes were all at the laundromat because I’d just gotten home from a trip and had nothing left to wear and the laundromat owner wouldn’t let me back into his laundromat to get them because he said it was too late, they were closed. But he had his own reasons for not letting me back in.
In bold, the word “work” leads a line to the previous page, the left side where your eye might have slipped first, and finding:

I thought you and I should understand the life of furniture better than we did, so I brought some wooden beams down from the ceiling, which I could use to build a table. I started to tell you that we preferred rain in the house to mineral water.
Not that this is mere trick, but works instead as an added layer to the main thread. Buckley’s first collection is a poetry that references the merging with criticism, blurring the boundaries between, and a poem with a narrator and structures of story-telling. Through new elements, the original can only deepen in purpose and structure, like the blurring between poetry, fiction and performance that occurred in parts of Montreal of the 1990s (in the works of Corey Frost, Colin Christie, Catherine Kidd, Anne Stone and Dana Bath, for example), or the ongoing blurrings between creative writing and critical or cultural thinking (including David McGimpsey, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Nathalie Stephens, Jeff Derksen, Donato Mancini, Aaron Peck, Erin Mouré and Anne Carson). On the surface, without all the asides, this is a straightforward (somewhat) narrative of a story-teller telling us a particular story of his experiences in and around his neighbourhood laundromat. Is it as simple as this? What is the purpose to all these asides?

What is the purpose of poetry written using “essay” in the title? Buckley starts the poem with a quote by Steve McCaffery, already leading us in a particular direction, quoting his line “The disappointment of poetry.” The first page of Buckley’s text writes:

I know the owner of the laundromat but can’t remember his name, which could be for many reasons. He is closing up the laundromat as I get there.

Possibly the reason for forgetting his name cannot be sought to any special feature of the name itself, but is explained when I remember the subject we were discussing before I was trying to convince him to let me into the laundromat, which I am late getting to. The laundromat owner was asking me about the whereabouts of his son, Hoopy, whom I am familiar with a little but don’t feel comfortable discussing with the laundromat owner since it isn’t my business. If I try to think of the name of the laundromat owner, this new train of thought, I’m sure, would disturb its predecessor, since I am now interested in trying to get the laundromat owner to let me past him into the laundromat, which is now closed. I can no longer regard the fact that I forget the name of the laundromat owner as mere chance.
Is this a poetry that has somehow renounced itself? I already know that Vancouver fiction writer Aaron Peck has renounced poetry (and Toronto writer Brian Fawcett did too, before him, and then managed to write more on his renouncing than he wrote actual poems). In The Laundromat Essay, prose-poems fit inside other prose poems; there is the main text and a series of small offshoots, each section a series of hubs, central points along a linear line. Where is this essay going? A retail domestic poem, is this any laundromat we already know about? Is this the coin laundry on College Street in Toronto, just beside Cafe Diplomatico, former hangout of Victor Coleman and the late Daniel Jones, as well as various generations of film crews?

Is this an essay, a poem, or a novel? Or does the question even begin to matter? As the poem deepens, so too, does the story, and the structures within. Is this a poem, a fiction, an essay? On different pages, different sections, my answer would shift, and by the end, I would say all of the above. Does the question still matter? Either way, it’s a damned interesting book.

No comments: