Saturday, December 21, 2019

nathan dueck, A Very Special Episode


Through golden ages girls lodge together;
  Through generations girls encourage laughs.
Naughty young Georgian urges gals gather,
  Mingle, gossip, manage long paragraphs;
Gentle Norwegian daughter neglects thought,
  Gleefully living during teasing rough;
Rigid governess begrudges getting caught
  Gambling, feigns dignity acting tough;
Fragile ragazza migrant indulges strange
  Magic, reigns vigorously being strong,
Geriatric group ignores bogus change,
  Sings unforgettably nostalgic song:
Thoroughly grateful partygoers forgo
Giving big gifts, betraying largest ego.

Cranbrook, British Columbia poet nathan dueck’s third full-length poetry collection, after the collections king's(mère) (Turnstone Press, 2004) and he’ll (Pedlar Press, 2014) [see my review of such here], is the wonderfully playful A Very Special Episode (Hamilton ON: Wolsak and Wynn, 2019), furthering a shift in content that has been developing for some time into nostalgia and popular culture (see also: his 2013 chapbook @BillMurrayinPurgatorio from above/ground press). As part of his 2014 Touch the Donkey interview, he spoke of the project, then still a work-in-progress with a very different title:

My work-in-progress is tentatively titled “CRTC.” (I'm not sure that I’ll get away with that title.) I’m writing a series of poetic forms and modes about pop culture, but culture that isn’t really “popular” anymore. These are old-timey poems about cartoons, comic books, magazines, video games that have become the white noise of my mind. As I age out of the 18-35 demo, I’m becoming nostalgic for the late ‘80s / early ‘90s static – I can no longer ignore the culture that informed the lifestyle of this slovenly “indoorsman.”

You’re right to point out that I tend toward writing book-length projects. Previously, I’ve written with one eye on the book as a unit of composition, but I’m trying to stop. I’d like to think of “CRTC” as more of a “greatest hits” package, which means I’m focusing on each poem as part of a collection. Who knows, it may turn out to be a book that readers tirelessly flip through like channels during commercial breaks. 

There is something quite refreshing in how this work joyfully acknowledges how deeply immersed in television and pop culture some of us are and have been, a tension I’ve also been aware of over the years as a literary writer (my own immersion in comic book culture is some 10,000 titles deep); as though somehow those of us who are literary aren’t allowed to be engaged in what is so often deemed “low culture” (pop culture, comic books, wrestling, etcetera). The collection is both confusing and wonderfully produced, designed to mimic the classic TV Guide, and dueck engages with numerous, familiar tropes, from the title itself to references that might not be so obvious, unless you are of a certain age, such as the poem “HEARING THE WEEKLY SECRET LETS ME SCREAM,” for example, that refers to a regular feature of the Saturday morning show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991). The blend of pop culture and tight lyrics composed in formal structures are reminiscent of the sonnets of Montreal poet David McGimpsey, but there is something far more absurd in what dueck is doing, allowing, in a certain way, for the ridiculousness of composing poems on the sitcom Golden Girls, or Knight Rider, You Can’t Do That on Television and Droids. This book refuses to take itself too seriously, yet manage lines so taut and vibrant one could bounce a quarter off of any of them, such as the poem “A HOOT,” that begins:

  It is day in the neighbourhood is a beautiful day for a neighbor is a neighbourly day in this beauty wood. But Mr. Rogers felt alone. He felt tight as a buckled belt and tied tie.
  But could you be what you seem, could you be a bellow could you be howl could you be horn or could you be a stage whisper could you be a steam whistle could it be beak, beak from the sky oh my you are a hoot, a hoot when a neighbor. But you escaped from an eggshell in a nest but you were only make-believe to Mr. Rogers but you were as lonely as one could be for you were once in an eggshell for no one knows loneliness as an owl alone in an eggshell but you were only make-believe for you made feathers blue not grey you made eyes white not grey so Mr. Rogers eased through sleeves of his cardigan.
  So he started to croon.

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