Friday, May 17, 2024

Margaret Christakos, That Audible Slippage


All the rivers moving through their
thought processes probably have
to do with radio &
to its voices – Reporting on the projects
people want to make in the Edmonton
river valley
                    & how Christine
asked you to feed the birds
daily & how none of your beloveds
live out here on the prairies

Yet the flow in you with
ease & with
insistence you

            hear them (“Feed the Birds”)

I’m always amazed at the absolute wealth of contemporary Canadian writing and poetic thought available in print, providing an array of Canadian poets working on a whole other level. To illustrate the point, my deeply-incomplete list of those better-than-best would include poets such as Sylvia Legris [see my review of her latest], Stephen Collis [see my review of his latest], Sandra Ridley [see my review of her latest], Jordan Abel [see my review of one of his recent], Erín Moure [see my review of her latest], Gil McElroy, Phil Hall [see my review of the recent festschrift here], Anne Carson, Dionne Brand, Canisia Lubrin [see my review of her second collection], Lisa Robertson [see my review of one of her recent] and a multitude of so many others, all of whom are doing work that are difficult to compare, although echoes, patters and patterns of influence and conversations can’t help but reveal themselves, naturally. Another of those Canadian poets long working at a far higher level than the rest of us is Toronto poet Margaret Christakos, author of the recently-released collection That Audible Slippage (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2024). The author of more than a dozen full-length titles, Christakos’ That Audible Slippage follows more than a dozen of her published books over the years, including the recent Dear Birch, (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2021) [see my review of such here], charger (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2020) [see my review of such here], Space Between Her Lips: The Poetry of Margaret Christakos (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], Multitudes (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Welling (Sudbury, ON: Your Scrivener Press, 2010) [see my review of such here], as well as through the non-fiction lyric of her remarkable lyric essay/memoir Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here]. I’ve mentioned before my admiration for Christakos’ ability to simultaneously establish something self-contained through work that speaks and relates to her other published works. Within that particular trajectory, the original composition of That Audible Slippage roughly holds to a loose temporal boundary from her time as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 2017-18, and there’s something about self-contained “residency” poetry titles I’ve always found intriguing, providing a space and time for a different kind of self-contained work. Through this, That Audible Slippage can be said to follow a string of other poetry titles compositionally specific to poet-in-residence positions, whether Moure hetronym “Eirin Moure” composing Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2001) out of a University of Toronto residency, George Bowering’s The Concrete Island: Montreal Poems 1967-71 (Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 1977) out of a Sir George Williams residency, or even my own University of Alberta writer-in-residence collection, wild horses (University of Alberta Press, 2010). Spaces such as these are very different than the focused time of, say, two or even six weeks at The Banff Centre or three months at Al Purdy’s A-Frame or The Burton House Writer’s Residency, offering the ability to move beyond one’s day-to-day context across an extended period, all of which can’t help but provide a different kind of attention, focus and perspective. If we, as writers, are so changed, even if through context, wouldn’t the writing be so as well? As Christakos’ sequence, “Branch,” opens:

Voices you cannot remember so
            recent present &
scattered into the snow dunes
            of what’s become passed

            Just that audible slippage
so quick so natural
            like the motion of winter birds
adhering to each other in a shared tree
            to fast arcs of solo flight

Clearly set in a different landscape (Edmonton, Alberta, over her more familiar Toronto, or home territory of Sudbury, written so evocatively through her Welling), Christakos’ poems across That Audible Slippage attend to deep listening: the sights and sounds of light, politics, birds, students, trees, contemporaries, radios and silence itself. The effect is delicate, pointed and polyvocal, and Christakos offers a collage of lyric that weaves across great distances, even as she catches the smallest moment, such as the poem “Aluminum Machiavellian Allegations,” that includes: “You heard another poet / recently disparate writing / the personal Let’s all go / global & historical exhume our / little troubles as if the shuddering / volcanic parachute of the future’s / about to rupture Putin / has missiles that can duck & / weave you’ll never intercept / Putin’s mischief there’s no / point chesting your poker / hand any longer Lay / it down says Putin Lay / it out [.]” Christakos maintains a lyric that attends both the landscape and the whole body, simultaneously, and the poems of That Audible Slippage offers Alberta as less a character or setting than one piece of a much larger canvas of listening, attending and response; a canvas that includes not only the immediately local and intimate but social media, which is itself can be both intimately immediate and expansive enough to fall into the abstract. “Honestly you need to access a second opinion on / matters of the present moment without taking / the time to read over that it is you’re / just not getting anymore,” she writes, as part of “Such Love Alert,” “If you don’t get the GLOBAL ALERT climb on up / to someone’s penthouse & jam for a while / on their solar keyboards with a cold one / & a moist heat in the sedan’s carbon idle [.]”

Composed across four sections, each of which are themselves composed across extended sequences—the first section, itself, being a sequence of sequences—there is something comparable in Christakos’ lines to the stretched-out prairie lyric of poets such as Andrew Suknaski or Monty Reid, but one that utilizes fewer points along that horizon to compose that same line. “Was it their echo in river valley wind / this blue morning?” she asks, near the opening of the poem “Paper Crowns,” offering, further:

Now, sky fills with large clouds, white froth
loping in from the east, soaked in colonial sludge
            — Vicious words
streaming from white mouths after they acquitted
Stanley and, without a shred of disguise,
white jurors fled out the court’s back door
police-protected, cowards panting
for their tiny bomb shelter

Hers are lines that hold together as movement stretched—the opposite of skipping stones, a long threaded lyric that tracks not upon surfaces but across depths—and the large canvas of lyric folded, echoed, stretched and reconnected is one that is reminiscent of her third collection, The Moment Coming (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1998), the first of hers I properly encountered, and perhaps where her sense of the large recombinant and intricately connected lyric expansiveness really found its footing.

As earlier collections might have focused the swirls of her collage around family, children, her mother or her Toronto backyard, there is something of the catch-all to these particular poems, her lines, offering stitched-in breath, meditation, response, witness, contemplation and commentary, akin to the ongoing bricolage of a poet such as Phil Hall. While elements of her prior attentions might remain, it is the listening itself that becomes the focus, allowing for anything and everything to fall into the scope of these lyrics. This is a book of listening. Listen, then, as further in the poem “Aluminum Machiavellian Allegations,” as she writes: “you were so incredibly pompous last / night to the cab driver who / took forty-five minutes to arrive he said / he’d been ducking & weaving / through the hockey traffic on ice-covered Jasper / besides calling a taxi with groceries / is a double privilege & / laziness & a / crap shoot / A good back-seat driver shuts / the hell up & / tips high & you [.]”


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