Saturday, February 18, 2023

ryan fitzpatrick, Sunny Ways


No I wasn’t in great shape before I signed the
contract but

no the Frank Slide didn’t happen but

no we may have worked there but

no we never lived there but

no we don’t have to pull out but (“Hibernia Mon Amour”)

The latest from Toronto-based and displaced Calgary/Vancouver poet and critic ryan fitzpatrick is Sunny Ways (Toronto ON: Invisible Publishing, 2023), following an array of chapbooks as well as his full-length collections Fake Math (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2007), Fortified Castles (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2014) [see my review of such here] and Coast Mountain Foot (Talonbooks, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Constructed out of two extended long poems—the thirteen-page “Hibernia Mon Amour” and eighty-page “Field Guide”—the paired duo critique and examine resource extraction, and rightly savage a corporate ethos simultaneously bathed in blood and oil, and buried deep (as one’s head in the sand), where corporations might pretend that no critique might land. Across a continuous stream of language-lyric, fitzpatrick writes of ecological devastation and depictions, planetary destruction, industry-promoted distractions and outright lies. Composed in 2014, the first sequence, “Hibernia Mon Amour,” as his notes at the back of the collection offer, was “originally commissioned by Daniel Zomparelli and Poetry is Dead magazine to coincide with an exhibition of Edward Burtynsky’s work at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was struck by the ways Burtynsky’s massively scaled photographs of the Alberta Tar Sands differed from another set of photographs appearing on Instagram at the same time under the hashtag #myhiroshima. The hashtag was used by Fort McMurray residents after Neil Young compared the Alberta Tar Sands to the effects of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima, Japan at the end of World War II. The hashtagged photos shared scenic natural views, keeping any work sites or toxic sinks safely out of frame.” The poem is set as short burst of accumulations, all approached from the level of a refusal of corporate responsilibity, instead issuing what appear no more than a series of corporate excuses and self-justifications:

No we have decades of research that makes us
horny to test at this scale but

no we wont be able to submerge Stanley Park
to a depth of three metres but

no can you do thirty but

no there’s going to be pressure to extract all
of it but

no way we’re fucking waiting for spring melt

fitzpatrick’s work increasingly embraces an aesthetic core shared with what has long been considered a Kootenay School of Writing standard—a left-leaning worker-centred political and social engagement that begins with the immediate local, articulated through language accumulation, touchstones and disjointedness—comparable to the work of Jeff Derksen, Stephen Collis, Christine Leclerc, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Colin Smith and Rita Wong, among others. Whereas most of those poets I’ve listed (being in or around Vancouver, naturally; with the Winnipeg-centred exception of Colin Smith) centre their poetics on more western-specific examples—the trans-mountain pipeline, say—fitzpatrick responds to the specific concerns of his Alberta origins, emerging from a culture and climate that insists on enrichment through mineral extraction even to the point of potential self-annihilation. Offering an explanation to the book’s title, to open his “NOTES” at the end:

Sunny Ways takes its title from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election victory speech where he exclaimed to a crowd of true believers: “Sunny ways, my friends! Sunny ways! This is what positive politics can do!” Trudeau references Wilfrid Laurier’s tactical turn away from political sniping and toward a greater spirit of cooperation within government—a hope that the warm rays of the sun will prove more effective than the cold threat of the wind. In an 1895 speech, Laurier asks, “Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than to compel them to do a thing?” There’s a lot of hope in Laurier and Trudeau’s shared appeal to positivity, but the more I turn this sunniness over, I find less to be hopeful about. The political hopefulness espoused by Trudeau feels potent, but can it combat the sunny ways of rising temperatures and smoke-filled cities?

“[…] you sit in the window,” he writes, as part of “Field Guide,” “of whatever Starbucks this is // one frame unfolding // across the scene of another // as the Climate Strike passes // because you can’t take crowds // and have a history of panic attacks […]” Composed as a continuous line, a continuous thread, the ongoing “Field Guide” writes the oil sands but also allows itself as a kind of catch-all, allowing for a multitude of fragments, concerns, complaints and threads, built out of an endless array of lines stacked and run down the length of each page. As page sixty-one of the collection, mid-point through the long poem, reads, in full:

and this time it’s much safer in

listening to the way Kate Bush rhymes

plutonium with every lung

it doesn’t get too hot here

so long as you make friends with the A/C

tuck into your draft

the first heat event of the season

that upswings the temperature

between the cooling stations

laid out on the city’s online map

a continuous path between spray parks

across Metro Toronto

your new mode of urban exploration

looks for the hidden pockets of cold air

folded into the entropies

of the traffic in the street

you canter where you please

teeth on the eve of activity

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo!!