Sunday, May 05, 2024

Hamish Ballantyne, Tomorrow is a Holiday


practice instrument
practice    merest doing
the Holberg photograph is
as Julian never ceases saying a
return of the repressed as Julian
never ceases saying is an excess of
life the act preceded endless times
in a company town soon declared non-viable
awaiting showtime. AWAITING SHOWTIME
whether that’s annihilation of all practices
        or the moment to put your
into practice    until
performance at last denoted by
the um, tragic
then bacon it’ll
be as is our custom
for unexpected
  visitors (“Hansom”)

I’m intrigued by the quartet of sequences that make up Vancouver poet Hamish Ballantyne’s full-length poetry debut, Tomorrow is a Holiday (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2024), a title that follows his chapbooks Imitation Crab (Toronto ON: knife|fork|book, 2020) and Blue Knight (Durham NC: Auric Press, 2022). Composed across the sequences “Hansom,” “Luthier,” “A&Ws” and “ROCK ROCK CORN ROCK,” Tomorrow is a Holiday is, as the back cover offers, “a witness at the margins,” all of which provides a curious and amorphous shape to that absent, outlined centre. “a letter from jimmy buffett to / benjamin treating the form,” he writes, as part of the third sequence, “of appearance of movement arrested / in the billboards advertising / billboard space: a whale encounters / an enormous incarcerated krill in a submarine [.]” There’s a lustre of the Kootenay School of Writing language-infused work poetry across Ballantyne’s lyrics, one that acknowledges labour, even across the patina of holiday, comparable to recent works by Vancouver poet Ivan Drury [see my review of his full-length debut here], Vancouver poet Rob Manery [see my review of his latest here], Winnipeg poet Colin Smith [see my review of his latest here], Windsor-based poet Louis Cabri [see my review of his latest here], Roger Farr [see my review of one of his latest here] or Vancouver poet Dorothy Trujillo Lusk [see my review of her latest here]. He speaks to the things around those things that are also around those things, writing rings around rings around that absent presence of centre.

what’s attempting escape when shaking
surprised by your own response
seized by something in the air
and the airs of the body
my brain contains insane architectures that compare
to the formation, timeliness, and cultural import of flying
crows in this part of the city
we must ask what’s in the box
who put it there and the box
we must ask why there’s a skeleton on a throne
not what he’d look like with skin (“A&Ws”)

The evolution and trajectory of “work poetry,” a term coined from within a 1970s British Columbia terrain of poets including Tom Wayman and Kate Braid, was one that emerged out of a focus on and acknowledgement of labour and labour issues through a relatively straightforward lyric. Other poets, interestingly enough, that moved through this cluster of poets included Erín Moure and Phil Hall. There are some that might forget that Wayman, and this work poetry ethos, was a co-founder of The Kootenay School of Writing, although this focus on a more straightforward lyric was one eventually jettisoned by those members of KSW that followed. Curiously, the attentions to labour became fused with the language-informed poetic that KSW would be known for (anyone interested in further conversations around the history of The Kootenay School of Writing should pick up either Michael Barnholden’s anthology around such or Clint Burnham’s critical work on same [see my review of such here]. Think of writing by Michael Barnholden, Jeff Derksen, Lisa Robertson, Christine Stewart, Deanna Ferguson or Judy Radul. Through an attention to a particular flavour of language and labout, Ballantyne’s Tomorrow is a Holiday, then, becomes not only one of the inheritors of this particular sequence of traditions, but an impressive feat in how one moves forward.

If some poems, some collections, give the appearance of including everything, then that is the space around which Ballantyne’s poems exist: focusing instead upon everything else, attending the minutae of side moments, sidebars and margins across a wide distance. As the sequence “A&Ws” continues: “As property grew they moved / forever to outside edge of the fence / even after they were out of sight / of bend in the river they / liked so much [.]” I’m fascinated by the poems in the final section, “ROCK ROCK CORN ROCK,” subtitled “Three Translations of San Juan de la Cruz.” Also known as Sant John of the Cross, the Spanish Priest and Mystic was born in Castile in 1542 and died in 1591, being one of the major figures in the Catholic Church for his writing, three sequences of which sit at the end of Ballantyne’s collection. Through Ballantyne’s translation, these meditatative sequences offer further ripples across his own “restless curiosity,” continuing an abstract conversation around a kind of moral authority on attention, being and being in and of the very moment, as the seventh of ten poems that make up the third and final sequence, “DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL,” reads:

porch light
night crouched low in the truck bed
church light
wife light
dream light (kid is or hitting
piano  swimming
skinny horse
loved loved loved loved loved
(there are other
lights too)
via some grammatical weft suddenly
hear own pavement footsteps
I am in the dark
passing the store
passing the pet store


1 comment:

Michael Turner said...

Michael Barnholden's Writing Class anthology is also Andrew Klobucar's.