Monday, May 26, 2014

Dennis Cooley, abecedarium

dear muse what’s the use
pretending we know where this is
going to end or why i am your out
landish & dashing figure in your o pera
& you yourself limbs akimbo O
lympic in movement limber
emotions thick & sloppy as soup
muddy alembic to your thoughts
your modus operandi shady as a water tower

why is it i should have to be playing opus
sum tell how i came to be your one
                                                            & only
            all yours all limbs (“dear muse”)

Winnipeg poet, editor and critic Dennis Cooley’s new poetry collection, abecedarium (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2014) is an expansive play of puns and train-of-thought sound play constructed through an exploration of a variety of subjects, including the history of the alphabet, references to the works of writers such as Robert Kroetsch, George Bowering and Andrew Suknaski, prairie histories, crows and what the ear hears, and poems that simply appear to propel narratively through and against the sounds of the words themselves. Throughout abecedarium his references are rich and varied, such as the poem “a long funny book,” that opens with a reference to Vancouver writer George Bowering’s novel A Short Sad Book (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1977), which itself played off Gertrude Stein’s A Long Gay Book (1933), as Cooley writes:

I’m thinking of calling
                  this a long poem.
I’m thinking of calling this
                            a long funny book.
            Well it is.
It is when you compare it
                  to George’s. It’s not
            a comic book
& it’s not a cosmic book
it is a funny book.

George’s was not.
                                                You could tell
                                      it was.

            a short sad book.

I’m telling you George
                                                & it isn’t
            funny. Funny he sd
                                                            you shld
                              say that.
                                                                        That’s true
                                                                       that’s what
                                                                              I said.

Cooley’s poetry collections over the years have each shaped themselves around a central idea or theme, from the play and punning around the physical landscape of the prairies, hearth and home of his correction line (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown, 2008) to his play around the histories of Manitoba outlaw John Krafchenko (a book heavily influenced originally by Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid) in Bloody Jack (Turnstone Press, 1984; Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2002), to the exploration of his mother he did with Irene (Turnstone Press, 2000), and even to the Dracula-themed vampire poems of Seeing Red (Turnstone Press, 2003). The lineage of abecedarium appears to follow a particular trajectory directly back to his correction line, as Cooley wrote out geographic tracings, as well as historical and pre-historical tracings, furthering such in the stones (Turnstone Press, 2013), a book that opens a play on the word, the image and the idea of the stone, writing “the rocks scraped by wind and snow / and by later arrivals / rivals for space,” and composing a space entirely constructed out of the semi-permanence of stone. Writing his way down to basic elements, Cooley writes through the development of language and writing, various ancient histories, books and writers he has read and admired over the years and prairie landscapes, blending them together in an abecedarium that works to explore the very idea of communication: written, spoken and archival.

    a part
of a new line
made a new
make a new
now     how does it act
up on you
    does it leave you
    breathless does it
bring you gasping
to the breathing hole

            till death doth us part
    & you you are pretty
    broken up about it be
    cause breaking up is hard
                to do    is it
    not dear reader (“home thoughts”)

Over the past three decades or more, Cooley’s poetry books have increasingly appeared to be each composed and collected as a kind of expansive collage-work in the form of a trade collection of poems, writing the subject from as many angles and perspectives as possible, allowing the final result to be a collaboration between an exhaustive poetic research and polyphonic mishmash that refuses to hold any perspective as singular, staid or solid. And yet, it would appear that this book, more than many of the books he has produced, the word play and the explorations of sound might be the forefront of his purposes. This is Cooley at smart and serious joyful play, pure and simple, bringing the weight of years of reading, listening, research and knowledge to every motion.

1 comment:

Lea said...

Huzzah! Love this description, rob. He is one of our American marvels.