Thursday, January 09, 2014

Aaron Giovannone, The Loneliness Machine

Burnt Offering

You said go to bed.
I’m in bed.

This is my place.
This is me.

It’s hard for me to be in the mood
you need me to be in right now.

You say panzerotti,
but I think Hot Pocket.

I am trying to get at something,
and I want to talk plainly to you.

A single,
slow clapping.

Thank you.

I’m starting to suspect that Insomniac Press poetry editor Sachiko Murakami prefers manuscripts that engage with a particular blend of comedy, social media and wit, and the publication of Calgary poet and translator Aaron Giovannone’s debut collection, The Loneliness Machine (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2013), further establishes this interest (see also: Jason Christie’s Unknown Actor [see my review of such here]). In Giovannone’s debut trade poetry collection, he immediately establishes himself through “Burnt Offering,” the first poem of the opening section, in which he is “trying to get at something, / and I want to talk plainly to you.” There is a straightforwardness and self-conscious awareness to Giovannone’s poems, a way in which he works hard to speak plainly, even when you know that he probably isn’t, such as in the poem “Just Be Cool,” (that might include trace echoes of Stuart Ross’ work, or even that of Montreal poets David McGimpsey and Jon Paul Fiorentino) where he writes:


You’re reading this poem
in my prize-winning collection,
The Loneliness Machine.


I live on the ground floor,
so there’s no point
in jumping out of the window.

There is the self-depreciating humour, the faux-straight statement lines, and the odd twist at the end. You can really see the Stuart Ross influence throughout the first section, especially in poems such as “Lake Poet,” that echoes some of Ross’ poodle references, opening with: “I am at a Lake. / I am a Lake Poet now. / Giant poodles strut / like miniature bears on leashes.” It’s as though Giovannone is exploring the possibilities of humour as a study of what some other poets have done, to see where he might also be able to go, especially in the back-to-back poem titles “What Am I Supposed to Do?,” “What Does It All Mean?” and “Can I Go Now?” that close out the first section. On occasion, it feels as though Giovannone is struggling so hard through his influences that he becomes trapped there, instead of using those influences to progress further, into something more his own.

On the other hand, the second section, “Pennian Interlude,” bookended by the two untitled sections of shorter lyrics, exists more as a meditative poem-sequence. Compared to the rest of the collection, this poem/section feels more grounded, and settled, exploring a different series of questions around the lyric sentence. Within this piece, he stretches a bit, writing quieter, stretched-out passages, slowly meandering across twenty-one pages:

On the opposite bank of the canal,
their laughter slashes through the willows.

The girl hushes the loudest boy,
who hadn’t seen me.

Now it’s just my feet on the ground.

I liked this collection, but felt as though I wanted far more from it. Giovannone’s poems are sharp, clever and interesting, but don’t always seem to bring something that I can’t necessarily find somewhere else. Still, the most interesting poems in the collection emerge in the third and final section, where Giovannone’s own consideration begins to really flourish. There is such a lovely cadence and meditative quality to poems such as the short sequence “The Trees Bend Towards a Vanishing Point” and the title poem, both of which show off his skills at writing out the small moment, extended. In the first of these two pieces, he writes:

After beating through the sand-coloured waves,
you couldn’t touch bottom.

With eyes clenched, your stomach
bottomed out in shock.

Then toes surprised by pebbles
rolling under you, the waves over you.

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