Saturday, December 11, 2010

Helen Hajnoczky, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising

Love Wears a Diamond

Love is lasing and true and unforgettable…
Just like a diamond ring.

Delicately fashioned, this ring forms a truly unique memento.
It’s almost as breathtaking as falling in love.

The superbly beautiful engagement ring is beautifully fashioned
To delight the heart of any young modern homemaker.

For your peace of mind,
We insure your diamond for a full year against loss, fire, and theft.

Polish gives your diamond more brilliance.
More brilliance leaves you breathless.
After an array of previous publications, including the chapbooks tea cosy (Armstrong BC: bytheskinofmeteeth, 2008), Brocade Light (Montreal QC: Tente, 2009) and A history of button collecting (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2010), its interesting to finally see a first trade collection by Helen Hajnoczky, her Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2010). A former Calgary poet now residing in Montreal, Hajnoczky’s poetry so far has been a series of self-contained projects, and this new one is no different, albeit larger, writing a semi-narrative poem through the language of advertising. As she writes in her afterward:
Drawing on the precedent of Robert Fitterman’s Metropolis XXX and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Fake Math, Poets and Killers demonstrates how we can talk back to advertising by using its diction to undermine its messages. By using the language of advertising to create something as unmarketable and useless as the story of a fallible human life expressed through experimental poetry, Poets and Killers shows that despite the pervasiveness of advertising and its tendency to rob us of the ability to express ourselves without commodifying ourselves, we can still speak. Of course, in publishing Poets and Killers, this text too has become a commodity. However, this text was not published just to generate profit by forcing another product on consumers, but instead, to contribute to the ongoing literary criticism surrounding the use of language in popular culture. The small scale, volunteer-based operation of Snare Books, the press’s numerous titles that critique mainstream capitalist diction, and Snare’s dedication to publishing new and diverse Canadian writers, I hope, also minimizes the irony of charging for a text that criticizes commercialism.
There have been a number of writers in recent memory working poetry collections with the language of other systems (apart from the examples she was more immediately influenced by), whether Lisa Robertson use of the scientific language of weather in The Weather (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2001), Michael Holmes using professional wrestling diction in his Parts Unknown (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2004), Rachel Zolf exploring the dehumanizing language of office-speak in her Human Resources (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007) or M. NourbeSe Philip writing out legal language to humanize an inhuman story in Zong! (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2008). For Hajnoczky, it seems as though the story is almost sidebar to her attempt to re-humanize a dehumanized language, and one told only elliptically, but through moments that are immediate, lyric, and strong.
Put Your Monty Where Your Heart Is

More than money,
A real bargain is one that keeps your family safest.

Until recently, that kind of bargain could cost a lot of money.
Now that’s changed.

What do you think it should cost?
Different families will have different answers to this question.

To assure economy for families of all incomes,
We’ll protect them even more.
As much as I enjoyed the ideas surrounding this small collection, there are other works of hers I have enjoyed far more, various chapbooks that have appeared surreptitiously over the past few years, watching her explore various systems of text and texture, exploring the prose poem, the lyric poem and the visual poem, and make me wonder if she might eventually compile a collection of such, much like Toronto poet Kevin Connolly, who did the same for his first poetry collection (even now, still my favourite of his works), his Asphalt Cigar (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1995). There are many things she’s learned over the years, little explorations into various systems; perhaps this collection might have been stronger had it been shorter? Was this simply an idea that couldn’t bring itself together into a full collection? Was the ellipsis of her narrative simply too elliptical? At least with her other publications under her belt, its obvious to see that she is capable of far, far better. It’s just a matter of time.

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