I can't walk past a church if there's music playing. I remember one particularly hard morning in Memphis and a sky full of teeth bearing down on me. It was cold like only a March morning can be cold and if it hadn't been for the First Baptist Church and the choir bleeding out into the street and the girl taking the lead and her voice sounding like there was a light coming out of it... and there was. If it hadn't been for that and so many other things now that I see were pointing me along the way. I've always felt most comfortable around people who know where they're going. Where they're bound. I've felt privileged to be around them and for a time to call myself one.
[Michael Blouin launching Wore Down Trust as part of the ottawa international writers festival, April 27, 2011; check out the YouTube link here] Writing through a fictional version of himself-as-author, the late east coast poet Alden Nowlan, and the late American myth, Johnny Cash, in his third trade book and second poetry collection, is Ottawa-area writer Michael Blouin's Wore Down Trust (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011), subtitled “a blues in three lives,” is a book about and built around voice. How could it not be? We listen to all three of the book's characters talk, external and internal voices weaving through the possibilities of their stories, threading fact with fiction, and the possibilities of where these stories meet, or may have. Wore Down Trust blends biographical fact with other facts not exactly facts, but, as the author writes, no less true.
ON THE POEMS AND PLAYERSExcept where obvious or as indicated as excerptsof personal letters, songs or poems, the voices here are imagined.But hopefully none the less real for that.
Most things border the truth.
The book as a whole works up to one central fact, that Cash and Nowlan met “in Fredericton in May of 1975.” What does this even mean, this tenuous connection, and one that the book even admits, contains no recorded information, no recorded conversation? In Wore Down Trust, Blouin has chosen two nearly-mythological artists known for their bodies of work, their excesses, their dark, popular, working-class country blues-not-blues, and the women that saved them from self-destruction. For both, he writes: “He died sooner than many would have preferred, leaving behind a rich body of work.” Structured in two sections – “Johnny” and “Alden” – the fragments of poetry and prose collect themselves, accumulating into a kind of documentary on the personal and more interior lives of the two men, collecting a kind of story that couldn't be told any other way. This is a book you can dip into at any point, any page, to read, and suddenly be in the middle of an already-existing story, even if you were to start at the beginning.
When you're almost killed a number of times it lends a certain perspective. When it happens eight times, well, it lends a sense of peace. And urgency too. I drove out this evening to the NAPA store and bought a new shift knob for the Jeep. It's an eight ball. If I some day have a son I'll pass it on to him. And I'd tell him why. It would be important for him to know why.
He could keep the eight ball. Put it away in a box in a closet. Someday put it in a car of his own. I don't have much of value to pass on. There's an old Rolex that doesn't work anymore. There's the Jeep, I own that outright now. There are these stories of mine. There's the eight ball, shining and black. What a thing to give.
I'm intrigued by Michael Blouin's use of voice in this collection, something done more overtly here than, say, his first poetry collection, I'm not going to lie to you (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2007), or his award-winning novel Chase & Haven (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008). In Wore Down Trust, Blouin constructs the voices of Johnny Cash and Alden Nowlan with the author blended, nearly slipped in, deliberately obscured, hidden amid these two men in black. It's tempting to focus on Blouin's fictionalized version of himself, wondering if this is, in fact, simply three facets of his imagined or fantasized fictional self. Are Cash and Nowlan simply smokescreen for something more personal, more complex? The “author,” Blouin writes: “The author was born. Most things end in darkness. Not everything. Not everything dies.”
Late into the afternoon and more drunk than you have a right to be for the time of day and wondering now how you'll possibly survive the night at this rate. And then you stop worrying and let the swirl of discussion take you again. The storm clattering at the window.
And later – her question about love:
what are you doing?whatever you'll let me