Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letters to Kelly Clarkson, Julia Bloch

Dear Kelly,

Lately I’m having that dream again, where there’s an extra room I didn’t know I had. It’s a woman’s dream, D. says. Last night my apartment unfolded an extra bedroom and an extra kitchen, and A. reclined on a futon in a Yankees baseball cap, glowering at me inexplicably. We were to serve dinner to twelve and thank god for the extra kitchen but it stretched very far away, tall and white. I wrought anxious over the cream-based soup, the way one is uselessly anxious in dreams.
Kelly I believed I could make it into something fine, make it fantastic. What will we do with these boys, these pretty tongues. Kelly you know how it is. You streak your hair & still it’s the same morning every morning, and you’re going for the eternal afterspank. It’s nothing and sugar-colored coffee, it’s don’t you want me baby. Then you swell over the fact that you can name two affordable boarding houses in Paris, one across the street from the Gare de l’Est. Do you believe timing is everything?
I wasn’t entirely sure how much I would like Letters to Kelly Clarkson (Sidebrow Books, 2012), Julia Bloch’s first trade poetry collection, a title I might have expected, perhaps, from Toronto writer Nathaniel G. Moore. The premise to Bloch’s Letters to Kelly Clarkson is exactly what the title suggests, composing epistolary poems to American pop singer and winner of the inaugural American Idol in 2002, Kelly Clarkson. Why Kelly Clarkson? Why letters? I’m intrigued at her choices here, but left wondering why, in places. Montreal writer and critic David McGimpsey once argued that his Ted Danson references in poems will outlive most of my literary ones, and he just might be correct, a lesson long-learned, it might seem, by Julia Bloch, as well. McGimpsey, I should point out, is one of the very few poets (alongside Moore, Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes) in Canada I’ve seen who is able to use pop culture references in a way that add to the poems, as opposed to merely showing off an ability to reference. In Bloch’s Letters to Kelly Clarkson, the narrator poses various missives as a series of questions, responses and answers, poems as faux-letters.
Dear Kelly,

Inauguration Day and it’s like, I want to cash in on the next season now, please. O your sophomore album, late and yet too soon. A girl drinking from a lake. You wear a cold jewel. I am in Pac Heights, in a black chair at Tully’s. You’ll still recognize me through the darkening window by the glittering at my breast. I know your voice has more to say—listen, everyone wants music that transports them, Give me this moment in the Tully’s, like an arpeggio, I admit! I love Gershwin! The world, stinking blonde in its ordinariness, will take your face and make it simply your own. And in a distancing gesture she creates space around the memory.
Lately, American poet Lea Graham has also been working the epistolary poem in her “Dear Robert Kroetsch” series, more directly composing to her late friend, mentor and influence Robert Kroetsch, easily accomplishing the finest writing I’ve seen from her yet. For Julia Bloch, the benefit of writing with such a frame is that, in the right hand, the project can incorporate just about anything, and she writes her way through commentary and critique on American culture and politics, some of which read as poems composed between other activities, whether waiting for her phone to ring, or riding the subway. The poems read very much like diary-entries, even creating a character, the “Kelly Clarkson” the narrator speaks to, separate from the American pop star, instead creating a secret confidant, hidden within the pages of the narrator’s journal. The framing of poem-letters composed directly to “Kelly Clarkson” is wonderfully and oddly deceptive, and nearly irrelevant, a way of irreverently writing out all else Bloch wants in a way that enters into the reader’s consciousness before it’s even noticed. Why Kelly Clarkson? Why not, I suppose. Didn’t American poet Tom Clark compose a poetry book in the1960s titled Neil Young?
Dear Kelly,

Nothing’s neutral, not the atmosphere’s power to cool and soften, not skyscrapers, not the glitter embedded in sidewalks, not the violin’s swell, the tug of the piano, that lush At last—it’s a system and you are its fabulous, winged drone. I wanted a fashionable new tilt at the heel, an excuse to part my knees and let the black fabric dip. You wanted it, too, but then, I believe you’re wholesome in the same way I believe the United States is a democracy, which is to say in a manner innocently misled.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ongoing notes: late late March, 2012

And I had my wisdom teeth out this past Monday, in case anyone was wondering why I’ve (in other media) been quieter lately. Ow, ow ow. Oh, painkillers.

And keep an eye on the above/ground press site. As well as a dozen or two new titles since Christmas, there are forthcoming titles by Lisa Robertson, George Elliott Clarke, Robert Hogg, Rob Manery and Jay MillAr, among others.

Chicago Il: From Dancing Girl Press, a Chicago-based chapbook publisher focusing on publishing and promoting the work of women writers, comes Edmonton poet and publisher Trisia Eddy’s chapbook Edith and Aurelia: A Romantic Tragedy in Five Acts (2011), a small book that has already managed a small amount of attention.
Act I, scene i. A sink near the window.

Stains on he hand (blackberries) make one think of age. Brisk wind lifts lace she has taken from a threadbare tablecloth, fashioned into drapes.

Always the spendthrift.

Colander empty, pats those spotted hands on an older apron, one her mother made. Sighs, looks across the garden. A bold lust of potatoes ready to be dug.

A task her son might be up to, if she had one.

Kettle on gas range whistles a reminder, tea leaves need soaking.

That time of day.
Eddy is now (I believe; unless there is something else I’m missing) the author of three single-author chapbooks, after the self-produced what if there’s no weather (Edmonton AB: Red Nettle Press, 2007) and a chapbook produced through Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series, as well as two collaborations—recycled cities (2008) and on bondage (2009)—which also appeared with Red Nettle Press. In five acts, Eddy’s poem slips through disappointments, and lovely distances reached but never attained, stretching the tragedy of what could have been into a taut, lovely, lyric. The Victorian-era image of a less-than-delicate lady in her undergarments on the chapbook’s cover is reminiscent of the Victorian-era content of on bondage, a text quite critical of the Victorian treatment of women. Eddy’s short sequence works a delicate movement through the standards of that era, from the second-class treatment of women to depictions of gardens, as well as what needed to be hidden, in order to be said.
Scene ii. The same.

Regret makes no secret of itself, wafts openly through the air.

Restless, scarred, unburied.

Drum within
Columbus OH: Now that I have my own small chapbook produced from Free Poetry For, I’ve received some of their other publications, including Raymond Cummings’ The Joy of Cooking: Poems, 2010 to 2011 and Adam Strauss’ Taking Off, both of which are available (along with all their eventual titles) free as pdf download. Theoretically, these are small chapbooks produced in ongoing runs, and distributed free in random, public spaces just about anywhere they can imagine.
Using Focus

The first couplet
gets your foot in the
door. And what of the
room? Maybe hopes
hung on axioms or
draped over high-
backed desecrations
of phrase. Insider
slang, lexical punk.
Swap out syllogisms;
tie you up. Silver
pocketed and then
the fixtures, bail. (Raymond Cummings)
Raymond Cummings’ The Joy of Cooking: Poems, 2010 to 2011 is a selection of quick, short poems that work to pack punches, with varying intensity. I’m rather taken with some of the shorter pieces, watching how their straight lines translate into single moments. Adam Strauss’ Taking Off, on the other hand, is a short collection of either untitled poems or a sequence of poems, all of which exist with rather exquisite twists. The lines accumulate, and twirl, managing to confuse and morph into something that perhaps the words by themselves could never have achieved.
In Paris is the only
Place I don’t wear Wranglers
Or have hopes of dating
A beefcake translates chocolate
Into curry-flavored scrims and
The fluffiest you could whim for
Heretofore revisionist
Praxis is the axis of
Reflection will revolve around
Like your screw-you to me
Skirls my heart till I
Know at some
point I need to be
In a maternity ward.
Honolulu HI: The final in the twelve monthly Tinfish Retro Series chapbooks is Timothy Yu’s 15 Chinese Silences (2012). As the author writes at the back of the collection:
These poems are part of an ongoing project called 100 Chinese Silences. They were begun in response to Billy Collins’ poem “Grave.” The speaker of the poem describes the “one hundred kinds of silence / according to the Chinese belief,” but then admits at the end of the poem that these Chinese silences were something he had “just made up.” I took it upon myself to write these 100 Chinese silences.
Yu’s is an intriguing project, emerging from such an odd source. Some of these pieces are quite interesting, but others strike as overly-storytelling, stretching out what could have been stronger by boiling down to the bare bone. It reminds me of a line of Dennis Lee’s (I believe), that my memory paraphrases as: “For a devotee of silence, he sure goes on…” But is this Yu’s problem, or perhaps mine? I’d be interested, now that I’ve seen his selection of fifteen, the final product when it appears in trade form. Just what form might the finished silences take, in the intervening time?
Chinese Silence No. 8

after Billy Collins, “Hangover”

If I were crowned Holy Roman Emperor this evening
every poet who speaks of Chinese Silence
on National Public Radio
would be forced to mutter the name of Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound Ezra Pound

then be required to read the complete works
of Marianne Moore and write a dissertation
titled “’Superior People Never Make Long Visits’:
Silence and Chinoiserie in the Poetry of

Marianne Moore Marianne Moore”

after which the poet would be quizzed
on Asian American poetry then executed by Zen
regardless of how many times he begged
for mercy calling upon the name of

Gary Snyder Gary Snyder
Yu’s project reads as a complex, articulate swipe at Billy Collins, whether justified or not. I’d suspect that this project is still in its early stages and, perhaps, after one hundred poems, could be boiled down to something bullet-proof, providing more weight to the initial impetus of the poems. Some are good, some are okay, and others have the potential to be something great. As he writes at the end of “Chinese Silence No. 5”:
Q: Do you have any advice for a young Asian American poet?

A: [silence]

Thursday, March 29, 2012

new from above/ground press: new titles by Hall/Burke, hastain, mclennan, Stewart + MacLeod

Shikibu Shuffle
Phil Hall and Andrew Burke

see link here for more information
and there are even a few copies left of Phil Hall’s previous above/ground press chapbook, Verulam (2009)

we / cum / ::: / come // in the yield fields / amongst statues with interior arms
j/j hastain

see link here for more information

This, circular tower
rob mclennan

see link here for more information
this chapbook is a translation of Deborah Poe’s Keep (2012)

An OK Organ Man
Fenn Stewart

see link here for more information

Entropic Suite
Kathryn MacLeod

see link here for more information

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
March 2012
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 402 McLeod St #3, Ottawa ON K2P 1A6 or paypal at

See previous batch of above/ground press items here, another here, another here and a further here. Check for regular updates, and sidebar links for chapbooks, “poem” broadsides, author interviews and reviews, and The Factory Reading Series. Review copies available.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Star Books Firebombing Benefit (Vancouver)

A zillion-author reading to celebrate New Star's defiance of the March 7 firebombing.

George Stanley, Larissa Lai, Roger Farr, Jamie Reid, Steve Collis, Fred Wah, Donato Mancini, Daphne Marlatt, David Chariandy, Clint Burnham, Jacqueline Turner, Jeff Derksen, Peter Culley

Saturday, 31 March 2012 | 3:00 pm

The Western Front
303 E 8th Ave, Vancouver

check out the New Star website here on information on their titles
[photo: Vyacheslav Molotov at tennis]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

i had my wisdom teeth out yesterday,

so perhaps you shouldn't expect me to be useful for a day or two. Thanks,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Open Letter: Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics, eds. Nancy Gillespie and Peter Jaeger

How do literary poetics in the discourse of the university appear? Remember that for Lacan the discourse of the university exists in a hegemonic relationship with power, and is further based on the phenomenological consciousness of the autonomous ego as unified subject who knows. From this perspective, it becomes clear why so many English and Creative Writing departments focus on the type of poem which upholds the sort of unified self that is most typically represented in lyric poetry – a self which typically ruminates on a serious topic through the use of rich imagery and figurative language, and then concludes with a pithy observation. The logic of the autonomous self of the lyric dominates the popular representation of contemporary poetry as well, not only on the university English department syllabus, but also in the list of set texts for secondary schools and in the media (for example, The Guardian’s Saturday poem and virtually all of the poems published in Geist magazine or the TLS or the London Review of Books are written from the perspective of the lyric “I”). This type of self-expression finds a safe home in Creative Writing departments, which are especially friendly to the discourse of the university, because they are based on the workshop situation: where people worry about adjusting a comma here or a word there, rather than inquiring into the rationale for writing itself, or considering the relationships formed among writing, subjectivity, and power. (Peter Jaeger, “The Freudian Readymade”)
I freely admit that much of the theory presented in the new issue of Frank Davey’s Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory (Fourteenth Series, Number 8, Spring 2012), subtitled “Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics,” breezes easily over the top of my head, but there is a great deal to admire in this issue, including impressive critical and creative works by Tim Atkins, Jeff Hilson, Amy De’Ath, Sean Bonney, Jeff Derksen, Eve Watson, Carol Watts, Vanessa Place, Nicole Markotić, Andrew Levy and Peter Jaeger. Guest-edited by Nancy Gillespie and Peter Jaeger, I’m fascinated by the selection of authors, a slight shift in contributors from across the Atlantic, which I can presume comes, in large part, to expat-Canadian poet and critic Peter Jaeger. Some time ago, Jaeger studied at the University of Western Ontario, and has spent the past decade or so writing and teaching in England, engaging with a number of highly active and engaged writers, including Bonney, Hilson and Levy, while maintaining a number of his Canadian relationships. In 2000, he published the critical study ABC of Reading TRG: Steve McCaffery, bpNichol, and the Toronto Research Group through Talonbooks.
So I see you’re a teacher again. November 10th was ridiculous, we were all caught unawares. And that “we” is the same as the “we” in these poems, as against “them,” and maybe against “you,” in that a rapid collectivizing of subjectivity equally rapidly involves locked doors, barricades, self-definition through antagonism etc. If you weren’t there, you just won’t get it. But anyway, a few months later, or was it before, I can’t remember anymore, I sat down to write an essay on Rimbaud. I’d been to a talk at Marx House and was amazed that people could still only talk through all the myths: Verlaine etc nasty-assed punk bitch etc gun running, colonialism, etc. Slightly less about that last one. As if there was nothing to say about what it was in Rimbaud’s work – or in avant-garde poetry in general – that could be read as the subjective counterpart to the objective upheavals of any revolutionary moment. How could what we were experiencing, I asked myself, be delineated in such a way that we could recognize ourselves in it. the form would be monstrous. That kinda romanticism doesn’t help much either. I mean, obviously a rant against the government, even delivered via a brick through the window, is not nearly enough. I started thinking the reason the student movement failed was down to the fucking slogans. They were awful. As feeble as poems. (Sean Bonney, “Letter on Poetics”)
I’m fascinated by much of this issue for the way that it forces me to consider writing differently, yet again, from all the structures I might have previously known. It reads as such a simple thing, but a constant struggle, working to approach a work on its own merits, or even attempt to expand the borders of one’s own writing. “The Social Bond of Poetics,” by itself, could mean a great number of approaches, from the writer’s circle to activism, and the issue originally came out of a series of readings and talks run through Vancouver’s Kootenay School of Writing, as Gillespie writes in her introduction:
The initial idea for this issue developed out of a year long series of poetry readings and critical seminars that I ran, with the generous funding of the Canada Council for the Arts, and the organizing assistance of Nikki Reimer and other members of the collective at the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver, under the same title as this issue “Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics.” Participants included Peter Jaeger, Steve McCaffery, David Marriott, Kaia Sand, Jules Boykoff, Rachel Zolf, Roger Farr, Jeff Derksen, Meredith Quartermain, Nicole Markotić, Clint Burnham, and Louis Cabri. Peter Jaeger was the first participant, and our continuing dialogue brought about our work on this issue. Although both of us are interested in psycho-analysis and poetics, Peter edited the poetry contributions and I edited the articles. Like the series, this issue draws on Jacques Lacan’s late work – in particular, his Seminar XVII – in order to examine the social bond of poetics and the links between Lacanian analysis and the act of writing. Seminar XVII, which as I noted above, took place in 1969, was delivered shortly after the student and social revolt of May 68, a historical moment in which Lacan was immersed. While Lacan is concerned with the limitations of the master’s discourse and the university discourse, he sees the potential of transformation in the analyst’s discourse. Although he asserts that it is necessary to make an “hysterization” of the analysand’s discourse in the process of analysis – because this is the first step towards questioning the master’s discourse – he asserts that this discourse must then be shifted to the analyst’s discourse for real change to occur (Other 33). These seemingly discouraging words can be seen as a provocation to go further, however, and to not fall into the same relationship to repetition, so does the revolutionary. As we do find in moments of Lacan’s seminars in which he suggests that a writer can hold a similar position as an analyst, and thus one would assume, also be able to shift these other discourses to enact some social change. (“Introduction: Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics”)
One of the highlights of the issue included the work of London, England poet and activist Sean Bonney, both his “Letter on Poetics” and the magnificent concrete poems, a selection from hi “Baudelaire in English.” Other highlights include magnificent poems by Holly Pester, Britishpoet Amy De’Ath (currently studying in Vancouver), Jeff Derksen, Carol Watts and the luscious “Portraits” by Elizabeth Guthrie, as well as Vanessa Place’s “Purlo ned Letter” and Nicole Markotić’s “The Body in Pieces: Lacan and the crisis of the unified fragmentary” (which I suspect is part of a larger, ongoing critical work).
At Par s, just after dark one gusty even ng n the autumn of 18--, was enjoy ng the twofold luxury of med tat on and a meerschaum, n company w th my fr end C. Auguste Dup n, n h s l ttle back l brary, or book-closet, au tro s eme, No. 33, Rue Donot, Faubourg St. Germa n. For one hour at least we had ma nta ned a profound s lence; wh le each, to any casual observer, m ght have seemed ntently and exclus vley occup ed w th the curl ng edd es of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber. For myself, however, was mentally d scuss ng certa n top cs wh ch had formed matter for conversat on between us at an earl er per od of the even ng; mean the affa r of the Rue Morgue, and the mystery atten ng the murder of Mar e Roget. looked upon t, therefore, as someth ng of a co nc dense, when the door of our apartment was thrown open and adm tted our old acqua ntance, Mons eur G--, the Prefect of the Par s an pol ce. (Vanessa Place, “The Puro ned Letter”)
And there is just something about the selections here of Jeff Hilson’s “Organ Music” that I think might need to be heard aloud:
why john dunstaple I hardly know you/
can I borrow your memorable face/ your
english countenance is quite quire rare/ o
constaple I have fallen for john/ john
dunstaple/ in the 1440s he is very forward/
he is finished with gloria & he is finished
with carol/ & I am finished with john
dunstaple/ o god we are all plantagenets/
a tudor is neither male nor female/ whoever
is besieging the house of carpets/nobody
painted their burgundian kitchen/ why
john dunstaple why/ because I was
in my coat of arms in the burning house
of windsor/embattled & dancetty
I left my shield in your ordinary extra
field/& I lied in the ground of eton college/
& I liked in the ground in armed corsets/
& I lied in the ground on dunstaple downs

Sunday, March 25, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with D.A. Powell

D.A. Powell's most recent collection is Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf, 2012). He lives in San Francisco.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I don’t know that I necessarily came to poetry first.  I came to it most recently, that’s why I’m still here.  When I’m done with it, I’ll move on to something else.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Yes. It happens every way imaginable and ways you’d never expect.  I had little trust in the idea that Twitter might actually lead to things that became lines of poems, but it has and it does. There’s a discovery.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I suppose like anyone I have a million ideas. And I throw them all away if I’m smart enough.  But every once in awhile you hear something, respond to something.  See an image that begins to accrete meaning. It’s like a bit of sand that’s gotten inside a mollusk’s shell and the mollusk gets irritated and starts working on that bit of sand and layering it with nacre.  And then it becomes a pearl and that’s essentially a poem.  Some of them vary greatly but that does not really matter.  They come from this act of attention. Like William Blake says, “To see the world in a grain of sand.” A poem is that kind of self-contained universe.  How to get there, your guess is as good as mine.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

There are really only two questions: What and why. Poetry’s never answered either one to the extent that people’s imaginations would be quelled by it. I don’t think the questions change: who we are in time and space changes, generations change, fashions change, but poetry’s really only after two things. I once thought the list also included who, but I came to realize that’s not important.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don’t know why we even refer to the writer as “the writer” as if there’s only one. As if writers are some rarified beings in our lives. They’re everybody. Some may do it more than others, some may do it to the extent that they exclude other kinds of functions as having any kind of primacy in their lives but I think we’re just like everybody else.  We sneak off and scribble notes that we expect people to read.  Others choose not to leave a trail. I respect that too.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

It was my Comparative Religions teacher when I was in junior college. He said: Martin Luther says, ‘Have faith and sin bravely.’

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

If I’m writing I’m usually writing late at night, between midnight and 3 am or 5 am. A typical day begins when somebody makes noise.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I think speech, words, and poems come from speech, words, and poems, but not necessarily in that order.  They’re not separate from each other or from life.  They’re just as much about vision and imagination as they are about living inside your nervous system, which is not an easy thing to do.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

That would be too long a list.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Vote in the 2012 election.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Something with numbers. Multiplication, perhaps.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Why would you not want to write? People write in a million ways. You don’t have to be a published author to be a writer.  Everybody’s a writer and something else. It’s part of your innate wiring. If we were spiders we’d spin webs. As humans, we spin language.  Some people just can’t stop spinning. I’m one of them.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film you saw?

The Great Gatsby.

The last great film I saw was the original Planet of the Apes just a few days ago.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Barbara Langhorst, restless white fields


i slept better before you
learned to kill
anxiety that perfect cure
now i share szumigalski’s
fear of knives i cannot stand to see
flustered chickens
popped in cones
heads thwacked off pre-cordon bleu
it takes so much rage
to learn
to love
to squeeze
a cupboard moth
immortal birds they fly at us
their suicide my potent fear
of being
god’s beetle
in leonard cohen’s hand
i slept better before you learned
to kill
Saskatchewan poet Barbara Langhorst’s [see her 12 or 20 questions here] first trade poetry collection, restless white fields (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2012), as the back cover tells us, responds to a “violent personal tragedy,” made clearer in the couplet “there are no kind words for this / my father put a bullet in her brain and a shotgun to his chest” (“MENSTRUL CUP”). Just as American poet Beth Bachmann wrote through grieving the murder of her sister by their father in her poetry collection, Temper (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), Langhorst writes out an exploration of the actions and consequences of her own tragic events, and the spaces it leaves. restless white fields is a collection that writes through the dark, constructed to explore conclusions, comprehensions and redemption. The poems in the collection might not all be directly about this, but are coloured by such.

there is such intimacy with the body in pain that one can come to crave
a pot of custard a trivial drop of pursuit a warm dish of tikka masala to ignite
the death projecting incarnation near pique that a lot of fat produces
an encounter with an ontological sensation in the gallbladder not dissimilar
to those who dare to hang themselves know that to increase orgasmic intensity
the irregularity of false love of success determines potency through the liquor
of settled stomach or the heat of bursting screaming breathless belly one comes
to feel the martyrs and their self-flagellation
Closer to home than Bachmann, Langhorst’s book reminds of Lamentations (Trout Lily Press, 1997), a first collection of poems by now-Winnipeg poet Charlene Diehl-Jones. Built out of a sequence of prose-poems, her collection focused on the loss of her first child. Books spawning from awful trauma are extremely difficult to work through in a way that any reader might want to engage (I can think of a few examples—that I won’t name here—of a poet requiring not a publisher but a therapist, resulting in the most awful and self-absorbed of texts), and Langhorst’s poems write through trauma and come through the other side. It is no accident, I would not think, that dedication at the front of the collection is “for love.”
last autumn’s fall expedition to the graveyard our chickadees went wild for my
students the romantics’ dead thoughts chanting confusion all through the lane
of the yellowing elms this year’s fashionistas their connected hundred-dollar
dresses become distraught with the cool west wind but they have dirt
on the mob as we sit beside the monks reading shelley’s
ode to the unified wish for

a cold climactic change of heart (“BELOW THE WIRE ii”)
Langhorst’s restless white fields is a collection of dark undertones, which by itself don’t make it a dark or pessimistic book, although it might possibly be a necessary book. constructed in five sections—no kind words, bellum, the persistence of memory, exiled hearts and blue placenta—Langhorst’s poems are highly aware of the proper use of space on the page, stretching long lines in some pieces, or spaces patterned across the page in others, stretching couples that run the length of margins and prose-poems that wrap up, curl so very nicely. Langhorst’s poems are an enviable expression and exploration of structure and highly mature rhythms, and a book that would be difficult to not see on award shortlists.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

VERMIN, Lance La Rocque


The poet establishes that which endures
But nothing endures
God reaches arms up from the earth
Calipers to pin your neck and stretch your head
Time and space –
Elbow grease and silly putty
Considering how long his name has been around in small publishing, I admit I’m amazed that VERMIN (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011), is Wolfville, Nova Scotia writer Lance La Rocque’s first trade poetry collection. La Rocque has had work appearing in journals and small publications for years, including in various of jwcurry’s ongoing publishing enterprises and through Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press, among others. 

La Rocque has long been considered part of a loose-group of surrealists that emerged in the 1980s, centred in Toronto, alongside Alice Burdick, Gary Barwin, Stuart Ross, Lillian Necakov, Gil Adamson, Kevin Connolly, Steve Venright, Mark Laba and Daniel f. Bradley, among others. 

A few years ago, editor Ross celebrated (and cemented) the loose-group of poets in the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian poets under the influence (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2004). As Ross writes in his introduction to the anthology:
Such is the range of this small anthology: there are those here who feel they are writing a pure Surrealism, and even live the philosophy, and others who absorbed their surreal content through other sources: the Burroughs wing of the Beats, magic realism, Language poetry, the New York Poets, and neo-surrealists and absurdists like Joe Rosenblatt and Opal Louis Nations.

I have a sneaking suspicion that one big reason surrealist writing is taboo is because humour is taboo. If you’re being funny, you can’t be a serious poet. You can’t be worth studying in university. But also, we live in a society that respects control, power, and conscious decision (to invade sovereign countries, destroy natural environments, guzzle natural resources, etc.). Those of us who embrace the possibilities of randomness, absurdism, chance, error, and the unconscious are happily out of step.
For his own contribution to the anthology’s section of author manifestos, La Rocque included a poem (curiously not included in the current collection):
I must clear the room of pencils.
I must eat cabbage in some style before every poem.
I must sharpen three to seven wooden spoons.
No plastics, no stainless steel, no more immortal utensils!
I must be sure I can see you once every three weeks
(Fridays are no good).
I will succeed at every poem, I know, if only
I can sustain the state of perfect paranoia.

Everyone is watching.
Even the objects are eyes.
Eyes off my instruments, yes!
(At times, I take a tape recorder
and ambush my organs.)
You’ll have to agree, surely, by my systems, I am on the verge
of becoming a great success.
One can only hope such “great success” is forthcoming. As Ross suggests in his introduction, La Rocque’s poems are rife with ironic twists and humour in straight, surreal lines. VERMIN is a collection of poems that exist as small essay-narratives, or small sequential thoughts. Composing poems that reflect and critique capitalism, to poems on his children, these are small poems that encompass and encapsulate large matters. There are echoes here in La Rocque’s surreal and abstract domestic moments more in tune with some of the works of Hamilton writer Gary Barwin, say, than the more outrageous narratives of Stuart Ross, which is interesting in itself. I’m curious to know, given the length and breadth of his publishing history (intermittent, but relatively steady), if this collection is exclusively the result of the past few years, or if there are poems here that might stretch back a decade or two?

Your voice sails
Over my head
And circles back
Like a little bird
With sharp black eyes
And a ruthless beak

Sinking the needle unselfconsciously into my ear
For blood or worms.
For some visceral gem
I claim not to have
Or would not reveal.