Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Ongoing notes: late December, 2023 : Karen Solie, Paola Ferrante + HR Hegnauer,

Another year, another what? And so it goes; if you can imagine, The Factory Reading Series will be turning thirty-one years old in January (keep your eyes out for another event come the new year), and above/ground press as well, by the summer. Madness! Just what might 2024 bring? And hey, publishers should be mailing me more chapbooks! I’m really not seeing enough these days.

Montreal QC: I was very intrigued to see a chapbook by Karen Solie, WELLWATER (2023), produced as “Vallum Chapbook Series No. 37” by Montreal’s Vallum magazine. Solie is a writer that doesn’t seem to publish chapbooks that often, and I don’t think I’m aware, offhand, of any by her over the years save for those days prior to the publication of her debut, her chapbook Eating Dirt (1998) that appeared with Victoria chapbook publisher Smoking Lung Press (although a quick Google search offers that a further chapbook, Retreats, appeared with Toronto’s Junction Books in 2017). Otherwise, Solie is the author of six full-length collections: Short Haul Engine (London ON: Brick Books, 2001), Modern and Normal (Brick Books, 2005), Pigeon (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2009) [see my review of such here], The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out (Anansi, 2015), The Living Option: Selected Poems (Northumberland UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Caiplie Caves (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2019) [see my review of such here]. Solie writes of basement suites, landscapes, foxes, and trees of a particular park, offering echoes of content familiar to anyone who follows her work; first-person lyric observations finely honed and crafted across a line any bird, to paraphrase Don McKay, would trust to light upon. As the poem “THE TREES IN RIVERDALE PARK” begins: “Diagonal paths quadrisect a square acre / white as the page in February.”

The fourteen poems in WELLWATER offer a curious grouping: as much as Solie is an author of individually-crafted lyric narrative poems, her collections offer an ebb and flow of deliberately-structured book-length compositions, and a shorter selection, then, moves in a slightly different manner; enough that I am curious to see how these poems interact with the book that might eventually come (her author biography does offer that a new collection is due to land in 2025). “I can’t make it right. Not the shadow lying on the snow,” she writes, to open the poem “BAD LANDSCAPE,” “not the snow, terrain sloping crudely toward / the poor outcome of a structure neither representational / nor abstract, and the sketched-out town beyond / ill-proportioned, depthless, and basic. There isn’t any sense / of an origin, of what Plato called the lower soul, / to animate what’s lacking with the spark of its / remainder.”

Toronto ON: Another title I picked up not long ago from Toronto publisher and poetry bookseller knife|fork|book [see my prior notes on other titles from the past few months here and here and here] is Toronto writer Paola Ferrante’s THE DARK UNWIND (2022) [see her recent ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here], a chapbook of poems wrapped in lyric anxieties, climate change and the Anthropocene. “The dinosaurs that didn’t die went slamming into windows,” the poem “Descendants” begins, “dazzled / by the colour of a gold. Instead of flight, they had their houses built / on tree tops, over many single blades of grass; they learned to run / on fossils of their dead.” Wrapped in cultural markers and large-scale historical trauma, this assemblage of first-person narrative lyrics an intriguing offering, and one, I hope, that will lead into a follow-up to her poetry debut from a couple of years back. There’s an increased sharpness to her lyrics, and clear evidence of a honed line and fine eye. Listen to the ending of the opening poem, “Asch’s Line Study In The Current Anthropocene,” that reads: “Before the river in the sky became a mudslide, / we stood for elevator talk about the weather as though we’d never / tried to buy the rain, as though the rain was not canaries, slamming / into windows. We chose, but stood in grocery lines and talked of / whether, as though we could still choose a time to see, as though / we’d get to choose when the power would go out.”

Brooklyn NY: Another title lost upon my desk until a recent mini-excavation is Excerpts from CONTRADITION AND NIGHT : GRACE (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2021) by Denver, Colorado poet and designer HR Hegnauer, published by Brooklyn poet, writer, editor and publisher (etcetera) Brenda Iijima. Hegnauer is a poet I’ve been aware of for some time but hadn’t yet read, author of the full-length collections Sir (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2013) and When the Bird Is Not a Human (Subito Press, 2018), as well as a handful of chapbooks, none of which I’ve seen, and now, curious as to why her work wouldn’t have made it across my radar before. Set in two sections, this work-in-progress excerpt offers the opening section “CONTRADICTION,” subtitled “To speak against,” a cluster of individually-numbered and repeated “DAY” poems, followed by the section “GRACE,” subtitled “The unmeried divine,” a cluster of individually-numbered and repeated “Thought” poems. As the opening piece to the short collection reads:


Life is like a small bus in the desert of your human. You can’t feel the heat unless you’re standing in the dirt. In which case you must ask yourself, would you like to stand in the dirt?

I look out the window towards the desert. Black walnut, organ pipe, saguaro, jumping cholla, sage, brittle brush, globe mallow, fish hook barrel, prickly pear, ocotillo. Scorpion, rattlesnake, collared lizard, horned lizard, fox, rabbit, coyote. I can’t see the people.

Hegnauer’s website describes this chapbook as “vignette essays,” which I’m curious about; intrigued, even. I’m curious, also, about the divide between “CONTRADICTION” and “GRACE,” between “DAYS” and “THOUGHT,” wishing to know a bit more about what makes those divisions, those divides. And where the presumably-eventual full-length collection might meet amid those clear demarcations. “It’s the sparseness that’s so loud here.” she writes, to open “DAY 5,” “Look up, look across the / desert. All that emptiness shows me at least twelve miles of itself, but / putting measurements in the desert is not a natural thing to do.” There is an enormous amount going on in these pieces, and these poem-essays are as deeply thoughtful as her lines are striking. As the poem “Thought 6” reads, in full:

“How do you say? My family hung themselves because too much torture,” you say.

Six nights by truck. Now it is time to walk. Get out and walk.

Om mani padme hum.

“Okay. Where does the sun set? Okay. We’ll go that way.”

A bit of yak butter to eat.

“Our eyes became sick. Because of the snow and the sun. You know, eye sick.”

Om mani padme hum.

“If we die, then we die together. But if we are life, then we are life together.”

Thirteen years old. Om mani padme hum. Where does the sun set?

1 comment:

Scott MacLeod said...
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