staring at blooming,
remembering home. (Rae
see my review of issue six, issue five, issue two], this issue appears to focus on literary elders (each of this list began publishing their work in journals in a range that extends from the late 1950s—as with George Bowering—into the 1970s). One might say that experiment without attending our influences can lose foundation, so the acknowledgement is one appreciated, and this issue includes extended poems, sequences and prose by Rae Armantrout, George Bowering, Phil Hall, Lionel Kearns, Ken Norris and Renee Rodin. There is something of Rae Armantrout’s work that I’ve always found reminiscent of the structures of poems by Ottawa poet Monty Reid, in the way they both extend small moments, stretching them out further than one might think possible. Reid does this in part through the physical line, which Armantrout breaks for the sake of slowness, pause, extending moments into a particular kind of simultaneous extended and sharper focus. She writes in portions, in sections, and her contribution of five poems are incredibly sharp. As the second half, second section, of her poem “First Born” reads: “To be present / is to start, // to feel a flash / of dread // when opened. // Dead the eldest / child of what?”
George Bowering gets a pretty hefty section in this issue, a sequence of twenty-four short lyrics under the title “Divergences” that feel reminiscent of some of the poems in his Teeth: Poems 2006-2011 (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Could Be (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], and even through his collection Smoking Mirror (Edmonton AB: Longspoon Press, 1984), through the use of the short, lyric burst, although one that extends across short stanzas as a loose narrative thread down his usual seemingly-meandering but highly purposeful cadence. Although, one might say, there’s a calm resoluteness to these poems that differs from his other work; the electrical energies of his prior lyrics are quieter here, seeking a kind of intimate calm. Ever since working his one-chapbook-a-month-year-long-manuscript, My Darling Nellie Grey (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2010) [see my review of such here], Bowering appears to be more overtly working sequences of chapbook-length sequences, each of which he seems to attempt to each get into stand-alone publication before the publication of the full-length collection; given the reluctance of literary journals to publish such long stretches across a single author, he’s focused on chapbook publication, so this sequence, whether it be part of something larger or not, does appear to be one of those rare journal placements. As Bowering writes as a kind of afterword to the poems: “Each of the sequence’s 24 sections begins with a line or two from the start of a Romantic poem of the 19th century, then diverges into something from the mind/soul/mood of the present old poet. You may notice that Goethe gets pilfered from twice. That was an accident. It takes, they say, nine accidents to kill a cat. Which is odd, because curiosity means carefulness. It is also the last word of the poem. Poems, the old poet thinks, are made through accidents and carefulness.” His first poem in the sequence “Divergences” reads:
Open the Window
Open the window, and let
freshly blow from treetops to faces
that care not.
They are turned
heedless away from the blue sky
they will never glance while some
they do not see are lowering
them beneath fresh air’s reach.
Perth, Ontario poet Phil Hall’s contribution to this assemblage are three poems from his forthcoming collection Vallego’s Marrow (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw Press, 2023) [see my review of his 2022 title with the same publisher, The Ash Bell, here], a title that should be out somewhere in the next couple of weeks. The poems here offer a continuation, a furthering, of Hall’s unique blend of lyric first-person essay, swirling through memoir, memory, literature and what I’ve referred to in the past as a kind of “Ontario Gothic” almost folksy charm. Hall’s straight lines are never straight; his lines have a way of turning, moving, altering in tone and shape while retaining direction, akin to white light through a prism. There is such a scope of length to Hall’s ruminations, one that seems to extend with, and even through, each new poem, each new collection. “I see my dead parents as characters in fables / or extinct creatures trapped in an old story,” he writes, as part of the first of these three poems, “there is no memory that has not savaged or been savaged / a tongue is eaten & thumb grease sees through a page // now here comes my own little train / the doors of its empty boxcars rusted open on both sides // black fields black fields black fields black fields / I can see through each clanging frame [.]” Lionel Kearns is one of those Canadian poets that I don’t think has ever been given his due, in part, I’m sure, through the fact that he doesn’t publish books terribly often. An early experimenter with form (his author biography includes the note that “His most anthologized work, Birth of God / uniVers, first published in 1965, stands today, in its various forms and formats, as one of the earliest examples of digital art.”), his contribution to this issue sits under the umbrella title of “Selections from Very Short Essays,” each of which sits, stand-alone, as text within a box shape. The poems read akin to koans, offering compact lyrics and twists in the language.
Of the eight poems included by Ken Norris—originally American, then Montreal, back to Maine and now retired in Toronto—the first two offer themselves as projects, responding to the works of poetic influence: “The Wordsworth Project” and “The Shakespeare Project.” “To realize the full variety of humanity.” the second of these begin, “To get it all down in a cast of characters.” Each of Norris’ poems in this assemblage are slightly different than where his poems often go [see my review of his 2021 Guernica Editions title, South China Sea, here], offering a broader overview of thinking, reading and response. After some thirty or forty-plus poetry collections since the 1970s, there is something of Norris once again seeking out origins, even legacy, perhaps, through these short narrative lyrics. Or, as he offers as part of the poem “Cultural Marginalia,” a poem dedicated to Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell, “Louis [Dudek] said we were kibitzers, / and I guess that’s true. My poems have never been / broad cultural statements. // Someday someone will realize I was speaking / to them, for them.” Vancouver poet Renee Rodin is another poet too often not given her due, and for reasons similar to that with Kearns: her biography references her Talonbooks published in 1996 and 2010, respectively, as well as a chapbook with Nomados in 2005, now long out-of-print. Her two-page prose piece included here is “Here in the Rainforest – The Lighter Version,” a piece composed “during the invasion of Ukraine and the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria” that begins:
Suddenly the morning is dark, hot water cold, no heat, no stove. My phony landline doesn’t work, cellphone almost dead. The last text is from a friend, also in Kitsilano, asking if my electricity is out too.
Cut off from communication I panic. My kids are long distance calls away, there’s nothing closer that the sound of their voices. Now I’m scared they might need me and won’t be able to get through. I find this thought unbearable.
Here in the rainforest we’ve had a severe drought, I loved the months of sunny, warm days. To not enjoy the beautiful weather would have only compounded the waste. Today we’re having an atmospheric river, a lovely sounding name for prolonged pelting rain.
Rodin has long utilized the prose lyric, similar to the work of Vancouver writer Gladys Hindmarch [see my review of Hindmarch’s 2020 collected, published by Talonbooks, here], as a way in which biographical threads are offered as the structure through which she is able to comment on all else. Similarly to Hindmarch being a prose counterpart to the 1960s TISH poets, Rodin’s work feels akin to emerging as a prose counterpart to the poetry experiments in and around Vancouver of the 1970s and 80s, all of which made Rodin, and Hindmarch as well, literary outliers. There is a seriousness to Rodin’s work, an ecological and social engagement, that underlies much of her work as well. One would hope we might even see another collection at some point, hopefully soon.
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