Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ongoing notes: late February, 2024 : Michael Chang + Ethan Vilu,

There are only THREE DAYS LEFT in the VERSeFest fundraiser! But you already knew that, yes? And the schedule for this spring’s VERSeFest: Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival (March 21-24) will be announced very very soon!

Toronto ON/Brooklyn NY: I’ve seen work by American poet and editor Michael Chang around for a while now, so it is good to finally get my hands on a small collection, the chapbook SWEET MOSS (Anstruther Press, 2024), following collections such as SYNTHETIC JUNGLE (Northwestern University Press, 2023) and EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS (GreenTower Press, 2024). Jim Johnstone’s Anstruther has been leaning into publishing work by more Americans these days, I’ve noticed, allowing for a particular kind of cross-border conversation within the bounds of his press, one of the more active chapbook publishers in Canada. The seventeen poems that make up SWEET MOSS shift in structure, from prose poems to more traditional line-breaks, each of which offer accumulations of first-person statements. Chang’s poems write in a kind of propulsion of direct statements, sly commentary and observation in a language condensed, communicating with the immediacy of social media or text messages. “if the gods are watching,” Chang writes, as part of the poem “SPECIAL SNOOZE,” “I’m not allowed to be too happy // I’m not sure why I think this / Probably something learned from television [.]” There’s an element of Chang’s lyric lined with input from every direction, whether culture, social media, relationships and travel, attempting not only a through-line but a line through. Perhaps, through Michael Chang, one might manage, and even maintain, a degree of clarity through all the external noise.


the man u loved
died in a war
of ur own making
downturned mouth
mess of fallopian tubes
yes but have u heard of
staring in the same direction
chanting NO HOPE FOR US !!!
we’re full
of special moments
that end
in a matter of hrs
a place in nature
we can finally meet
pegged by peggy
hootin’ for hooten
heads in clouds
in flagrante delicto
the battys in the club
peep ur finest garb
seething assured
a hit dog will holler

Toronto ON/Calgary AB: The latest from Calgary poet, reviewer and editor Ethan Vilu, following the longsheet, A Decision Re: Zurich (The Blasted Tree, 2020), is Drawings From Before The Red Year (Anstruther Press, 2024), an assemblage of short narrative scenes with a clipped lyric. Vilu’s poems are lean, and precise, a sketchform of lines enough to see the whole portrait, even the spaces not drawn. Taking their content from the online fantasy game series, Elder Scrolls, I’m surprised there aren’t more poems composed across further elements of pop culture (although the list of those composing poems for superhero comic characters are fairly short, also), specifically online gaming, something Leah MacLean-Evans has been working for a while (I’ve been awaiting a chapbook or collection of some time) and Ottawa poet IAN MARTIN, who has been exploring both gaming and programming. “In my skull I hear the clattering of bad fables. Dark signal,” Vilu writes, to open the poem “Galtis Guvron,” “scrabled scar. Down the stairs, a messenger approaches: // blood on her hands, a translusccent musical name. A siren // siphoning from the stars.” Vilu’s poems here are sharp, serious and playful, and one might wonder if there might be a full-length collection-to-come, perhaps, one that might even allow certain readers an entry point into poetry, from online gaming. The opening lines of the poem “Drarayne Girith,” might even serve as a kind of ars poetica for Vilu’s explorations through gaming: “I stop just short. // Clipped writsts, ragged staff, crushed tongue.”

The Docks Outside Vivec

Ambrosial, this sea breeze –
salt, anther pollen and pearl.

Linen and wood
form a necklace to collar the cove.

straight ahead: the heather patch,
the sigil-stone, the sky-vibrant beach

and the wide bridge,
tense and time-honoured,

carrier of secrets,
working to cast off its burden.


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