The Elements of Fiction
I secured the materials: 5G of mercury, 35ML of concentrated nitric acid, 30ML of ethyl alcohol, two 100ML beakers, a glass rod, an adjustable heat source, a jar of distilled water, some blue litmus paper, a funnel, and a coffee filter. K mixed the 5G of mercury with 35ML of concentrated nitric acid in one of the beakers and stirred it with the glass rod. Then M transferred the solution to the burner and heated until it started to boil. The mixture turned green. the mercury is dissolved, Q said. Next, I poured 30ML of ethyl alcohol into the second beaker, and slowly added the contents of the first beaker to the second. Red fumes rose from the beaker. I looked at K. The fumes are toxic and flammable, I said. K nodded and opened a window. Thirty minutes later, the fumes had turned white. M said white fumes indicated the reaction was near completion. In 10 minutes, M said, Q must add 30ML of distilled water to the solution. 10 minutes later Q followed the instructions exactly. Now filter out the crystals from the solution carefully, I said. K filtered out the crystals. M and Q watched as the crystals emerged. Can the crystals be deployed in a plot now, M said. No, said Q. The crystals must be rinsed several times in distilled water to remove excess acid. Once they have tested neutral on the litmus paper, then they can be deployed in a plot. Besides, this experiment is being carried out solely for entertainment purposes, I said.
The cover image for Vancouver writer and editor Roger Farr’s second trade poetry collection, IKMQ (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2012), shows a 1940s-era adding machine, photoshopped to include the book’s title over where other letters had been. Designated on the back cover as “poetry,” IKMQ is a deceptive book, constructed out of a sequence of page-long prose sections “each involving the characters represented by the letters I, K, M and Q.” It is as though the letters themselves inform the motion of the narrative, inform the reactions of the characters they represent. What and how do letters mean, or react? Reminiscent slightly of a book by another Vancouver writer, Meredith Quartermain’s Recipes from the Red Planet (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2010), Farr’s IKMQ is far darker, writing a sequence of individual scenes that accumulate themselves into something that exists on the cusp between a sequence of prose-poems and the structure of a novel.
Much has been written of “poet’s prose,” which seem to exist in the long and nebulous gradient between essays, fiction and the prose poem. In Canadian writing, the space of “poet’s prose” includes Lisa Robertson’s recent Nilling to works by Jonathan Ball, Robert Kroetsch, Nicole Brossard, Erin Mouré and Nicole Markotić, among so many others. The uncertainty presented on such a space only seems to highlight the critical lack that exists in those same spaces, existing between the strict boundaries of prose and poetry. Just what is it we are so afraid of?
K rose to present the Officer’s Report. The slaughtering and processing of the pig went off without any problems, K said. A document titled “Art as Technique” was passed around the table. M, Q and I read the document while K turned on the projector. The video showed a pig flapping about on the floor before being clubbed unconscious, kicked, and thrown onto a conveyor belt. In the next scene, the neck was cut and the animal was stuck onto a hook, while blood drained into a dirty steel vat. The carcass then was burnt, skinned, and decapitated. K paused the video and asked if there were any questions or comments. Q wanted to know if that was the end of the video. No said, K. The next scene shows the carcass being separated into edible and non-edible parts. That will be enough, M said. Fine, K said. Please note, however, that in the future, a chilling period will be required before the meat can be prepared for final processing, packaging and shipping. This allows the flesh to firm up. I nodded. K sat down. Any further discussion, I asked. There was no discussion. Motion to accept the report. Q moved from H7 to G4. So moved, said M. All in favour. K, M, and Q nodded. It’s unanimous, I said.