This is poetry for a more honest, emotionally and politically astute future.
Davis is a Winnipeg intermedia artist working with poetry, audio/composition, and performance.
I Have to Live
Penguin Random House
In an era where lyricism and conceptualism over-determine what counts as “good” poetics, there is something startling about an epigraph which reads: “What would I write if I were going to live?” The body is alarmingly present in Aisha Sasha John’s work, threatening the existence of the poem itself: “Why should I know what I’m talking about / When I could merely feel it?” And yet there is pleasure in the game—not of “knowing”, exactly—but of dancing around reality. In “I like it when we give the world to itself,” the speaker chimes, “Folding it to it / Like a soft-shelled taco. Hi, God. // I said in the photo’s caption. / It’s Aisha. // I volunteer.” And yet no intervention will do—Jim Jarmusch’s nostalgically orientalist Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t make the cut: “It was as fake as most movies. […] Tangiers / Is not like that.” The issue is not so much that some specially privileged “I” has to live, but that we have to live together: “My heaven meets me in the day. / My heaven meets me in / Your company.”I Have to Live offers a profoundly relational and radically readable poetic.
Coach House Books
In addition to her poetic and academic pursuits, Queyras is the founder of Lemon Hound, Canada’s preeminent source for poetics online, where emerging and established voices are put into a curated conversation.My Ariel is a highly personal variation on this sort of project. Writing over, under, and beside the life and work of Sylvia Plath, her critics, and her biographers, My Ariel establishes the rules of the game in its opening poem, named after Plath’s “Morning Song,” as the speaker wakes and groggily checks their phone: “What is missing in me? Refresh. Refresh. / I can’t stop looking for love here.” Love, absence of sanctioned desires (filial, romantic, poetic), and an excavation of intensely private spaces—Queyras’ and Plath’s—carry the collection. “Daddy” is haunted by fathers: “I feel all the daddies, Sylvia. They brawl inside me like drunken Colossi, elbowing my aorta, kicking my uterus. […] I wish I could laugh when the hands that caught me at birth and later slit me in two like an apricot fly up at me in the middle of sex.” Mothers retreat only to return as wounds the speaker does not know how to live without: “How can I escape the force / Of her narrative, how she pulls everyone / And everything into her design? Then, / How will I survive without her voice? What silence / Will invade the dark centre of my mind?” Children arrive to the speaker and her partner, but fear and failure tug at the corners of this new love: “I dreamed I was crossing the Verazano on foot / and an earthquake came. I was caught, holding on to the railing, / both babies in my arms. // One fell. // We understand the solitude of the journey when we sign up, we don’t understand the solitude of the journey.” Towards the end of the collection the speaker asserts: “I needle through the / Black eyes of my past, / Which must also be my // Future (you can’t / Create what you can’t / Imagine).” This is poetry of and for pain but also, unrepentantly, of and for love.
Assi, the land of the Innu, rises in Fontaine’s Assi Manifesto and speaks: “Precious water. Flowing water. Fierce water. / I dance on the river. Working the rudder of the medicine wheel. My thirst is a manifesto. / then there is Alberta, Fort McMurray, Athabasca. / Where I stumble.” There is an urgency to these poems, a violent ecological and spiritual longing: “I’ll write you a manifesto / a love manifesto a paper manifesto // I hear you beating my destiny / the north and south dying / […] Hurry up and join me / the tundras are sagging.” Time expands to embrace the speaker: “I am three women in one / I am daughter / mother grandmother / […] I am moon land sea / my memory / […] a territorial tremor / a rumbling of ancestors / the heart the emptied wombs.” Joy becomes revolution: “Pleasure is resistance / resistance is pleasure / in your hand / red blood / red framework.” The speaker cries for an apocalyptic rebirth of the land: “The caribou / the buffalo the horses / the deer will come / with the land / drown the pipelines // We will burn / the residential schools / the paper acts // We will embody / a huge fire.”
From the hyperreal to the bare-boned and bleeding, October’s snapshots probe systems that seem out of our hands, and bring to life both our complicity and agency.
Rachel Narvey is a poet and a wannabe witch from Winnipeg. When she is not studying or working, she is probably dancing around in her room to 2000s pop hits.
In Slow War, Benjamin Hertwig touches on some of our deepest national myths, only to push in, breaking the veneer of patriotism to reveal something much more potent. Hertwig leads the reader through vignettes of a prewar journey, (the girls at school/will like you more/for having gone to war), culminating in unshakeable memories of trauma upon returning home (try to convince yourself that the smell/of bodies in your bed/comes from meat cooking/in the room above). Hertwig is unabashed in situating the reader immovably in disillusionment (In Flanders Field some shit/went down), his tone curdling in poems like “Food Habits of Coyotes, as Determined by Examination of Stomach Contents” where metaphor dissolves into stark horror. While cruelty is certainly on feature here, Hertwig also takes interest in the full range of human capability, meditating on casual acts of compassion in a place where human touch is scarce enough that a brush on the shoulder can feel like an encounter with god. God is of particular interest to Hertwig, who grapples to make space for something greater continuously throughout this collection. Time, god, and war collapse and entangle, before “Remember Your Body Again,” where “cedar smells of god/and a Bach cantata/makes you almost/forgive/your hands.”
Feel Happier in 9 Seconds
Coach House Books
In her collection Feel Happier in Nine Seconds, Linda Besner’s envisioning of god is less ubiquitous, but rather “has a pimpled visage.” When the quotidian is becoming increasingly bizarre and surreal, even terrifying, Besner supplants the reader in her own landscape of absurdity, making space for moments of hilarity and even joy. Her poetics seem to suggest that happiness is less a degree of control (flog a sunbeam, harness/a cloud) and more a process of letting go completely, surrendering to the ludicrous. Besner takes jabs at neoliberal ideals of productivity (I for one, have been making a list of lists to make), and happiness that is scalable and competitive (my happiness is twice/your size). Where news headlines today feel unbelievable and often harrowing, Besner takes cultural ongoings to the exponential. An MGM exec declares supremacy over the sky, Mother Nature goes to court, and an interviewer asks the interviewee for her bra size. In this collection, Besner seems to allude to the uses of imagination for navigating the current landscape: “I found I was driving/a cardboard box/with the steering wheel/drawn on. Hitting/the breaks meant/veering into a hard place/and falling down.”
Where Besner is wry games and witty jeers, Joe Denham is grim inevitability in his collection of poems, Landfall. Here, the wording is sparse, leaving the page to feel like a litany performed to a cloaked audience. Denham wants to make us aware that “the air we breathe still, with ease, assuming always” is running out, becoming irrevocably changed, and we’re too plugged in to notice (enter stage right exit when/we slump back into our devices). Denham is not one to supply answers, and indeed, we see the speaker consider hurling themselves into the sky, debating whether or not to cover up in KY jelly and whipped cream and just disappear into oblivion. Still, in the midst of total nihilism and individual user isolation, Denham makes time for open air: “I know you want/just a little more, and deserve it so. And do. Adrift we are inside/this open blue.” But Denham also makes it clear that wanting, while cathartic, is also what brought us to the end of the world in the first place (“maybe free will is a stone dropped forever into a/ bottomless well”). These poems seem to suggest that we are capable, indeed, of going both ways, but deciding on which is something that might just pass us by before we can manage it. “What if we actually have to choose,” Denham warns.
These collections tackle the poetry of architecture, pornography, and colonization. They made this reviewer think a lot of thoughts and feel a lot of feelings. Maybe you will too.
Davis is a Winnipeg intermedia artist working with poetry, audio/composition, and performance. He submitted this month’s Snapshots early so he could pack up his Volkswagon and go to a clown camp in rural Ontario.
Midway Radicals & Archi-Poems
Ted Landrum’s debut collection of archi-poems, inspired by the “architecture of poetry and poetry of architecture,” is kind of like a horror movie: take a few prestigious authors (say, oh, Christian Bök, George Bowering, and Roland Barthes), put ‘em in a possessed woodchipper, and flip the switch—then see what the machine spits out after grinding up these wordsmiths according to its own whimsical laws of physics and imagination. Landrum builds “his” poems out of recycled materials, sampling essays, poems, and philosophy to create poems like rooms in a large building complex: interconnected but with no prescribed route through them and with maximized opportunity for users to see (and hear) unanticipated resonances. Consider one of the “beams” in “Ark Fundations, Roving Renovations (8 beams)”, which works with Ronald Johnson’s ARK: The Foundations (itself a poetic work inspired by architecture): “arkling / fiddling / ruffle / up / era / whisk / in / ornamentation / lilt / lucid / quill in a / win / tri / staccato / cluster / be in time / art.” The goal seems less syntactical then conceptual: to write and rewrite the world, to “Pick it up / the pencil / pick it up the pen let the ink run run run and do not stop till the silence / is a friendly one and / […] the fruit / trees / carved by / lovers.” A radical drive down the midway of Can-lit experimental poetics.
Search Box Bed
In Darryl Whetter’s Search Box Bed, a collection inspired by how technology is altering our vocabulary and lived experiences around sexuality and pornography, readers are taken on a racy romp through news feed fetishism, Amazon-marketed sex toys, and the “necessary / play” of BDSM. On a technical level, the poetry is excellent, the word choices and line breaks richly suggestive; from the poem “Yoga”: “sexercise. not tantric marathons but daily / unconsummated orgies in expensive clothes. / now that lingerie is cheap the ostentatious curves / are yogic, every studio a rapper's choreographed dream: / upper middle class asses / up, faces down.” A couple of content warnings should be noted though: sometimes the wordplay is lots of fun; other times, in poems like “Post Rape”, it seems to perpetuate the same sort of insensitivity that much of Whetter’s source material participates in. Also conspicuously missing from Search Box Bed are the innumerable contributions to conversations, images, and scholarship around sexuality, identity, pornography, and the internet that have been made in recent years by theatre artists, queer artists/activists, and feminist pornographers. “Here, finally, is the language of digital love,” proclaims the back cover blurb of Search Box Bed. Perhaps this assertion is a little ambitious. Search Box Bed is a language of digital love, but it is not the only one.
Dead White Men
Coach House Books
Drawing on texts written by early explorers of the Americas and nautical pioneers, Dead White Men plays a dangerous game: it simultaneously preserves the linguistic rush of encountering an other and unreservedly condemns the violence—epistemic, ontological, and brutally literal—that almost inevitably accompanies this lyrical, soaring language of discovery. The book is divided into two sections “this country of science my soul”, which deconstructs texts made during the 1769 measure of the Transit of Venus, and “what is history / a whitish story” (one phrase is an anagram for the other). James Cook struggles to choose the right name for his findings and maintain his linguistic composure: “I called it Cape Farewell for reasons which will be given in their proper place and be known on the Chart by the Name of Blind Bay or Cape St. George we have discovered it on that Saint’s day and on account of the ^ New Plants collected of this sort of fish found in this place I gave it the Name of Sting-Ray Harbour Botany^ist Bay.” Men colonize the telescopic gaze of Galileo Galilei: “the GALAXY is nothing but a mass of innumerable men in clusters—whenever you direct your telescope, an immense number of men immediately offer themselves to view.” The gorgeous language starts to engorge on itself: “They have all fine white Teeth they Climb like Munkeys. Their natural Dispositio / they have breeches made of feal fkin they are thieves to a man Short flat Noses and lips Their progress in Arts or Shoes of soft-tanned moofe hide they would steal bu / verything that came their way.” And so on and so on. Shane Rhodes turns the master’s tools against the master and catalogues his collapse, even as he reveals the disturbing degree to which our contemporary imaginations can fall prey to Dead White Men.