This week's Snapshots explore family, relationships, place, and the landscapes of Canada. Because many of the poems included these three poetry collections are dedicated to or written about mothers we would also like to wish you all a Happy (belated) Mothers Day!
Joanne Epp's poetry collection Eigenheim manages to linger in the past without ever getting sentimental. Epp's nostalgia is beautifully unpleasant, caught up in the hidden glances between teen girls in a locker room and the violent dissonance between now and then. In Eigenheim, every moment flirts with anxiety and time is neurotic: "Her mother only said: 'Go to sleep. / Nothing's going to happen.' Still, / she checked the stove twice / before crawling into bed." Every poem finishes with its own little heartbreak, where there is "[n]othing to do [...] but rebel / against [...] the ache of memory, / all the impossible questions." The narrator slides back and forth between the past and the future by weighing her present down with muddy memories. Epp's poetry is heavy and waterlogged, like trying to play a piano under water, the "dampening sound, blunting the edges / of memory." Her themes and variations remind us that today, like every day, is "a good day for dissonance."
Monologue Dogs starts on a sharp note with the poem "The Devil's Advocate" and Meira Cook's brilliant turn of phrase: "My client sends his regrets. He is busy / falling through blank verse for all eternity." Like Epp, Cook manages to avoid being sentimental while still writing longingly about the past and childhood. Instead, her poetry bites down on nostalgia with a violently candid wit. While she references old stories and folktales (Hansel and Gretel, Adam and Eve) Cook's phrasing is still completely original: "my mother blooms like the stars you see / when you ram into a tree, a kiss, / old bony inevitability." Monologue Dogs is not, as its title suggests, uni-voiced, but actually a dialogue between characters, stories, and memories. The story of Geppetto and Pinocchio is contrasted with and compared to the relationship between Virginia and Leonard Woolf, a tie that makes no sense at all and, at the same time, perfect sense in its madness. Cook uses Monologue Dogs as a way to make us question what we believe, whether we can believe what we hear, and whether our beliefs are ever heard. "I thought God would hear. / I knew the neighbours wouldn't."
Rue is a debut poetry collection by Melissa Bull and was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award. In Rue, memories are tied up in the intersections of city streets and meaning is caught between the English (to rue meaning "to regret") and the French (la rue or "the street.") Bull's poetry ploughs through the streets of St. Henri, Montreal and knocks down the boundaries between languages as well as between places and their memories. Like Eigenheim and Monologue Dogs everything in Rue, whether long-past or yet to come, feels sharply and violently present, like a "bruise, a tongue curling under it." In the end, every poem in Rue is a fragmented dialogue, a piece of (mis)communication: "Tonight I saw a movie where a couple argues, / no holds barred, the way we do, / and then laces themselves / tentatively back together again, the way we do." But even Bull's vulnerabilities rebound as strengths, "unsheafed / unleavened umbilicus shrimp," and her words strongly resist de(con)struction.
Snapshots is back with our miniature reviews. This week we look at three books that deconstruct poetry, speech, and language as a whole.
New Star Books
Loitersack, with its blue-green cover and inner sea of ideas, is like jumping into a pond of poetic intrigue. The book is packed full of quotations, analyses, and deconstructions of and about poetry, and yet it never gets old. As Jonathan Ball puts it in his review for the Winnipeg Free Press, Loitersack "uses poetry to forge poetic theory" and the effect is just as perplexing and just as thrilling as sitting down with the work of a well-loved scholar. The best part of Loitersack is that Donato Mancini makes it fun. The book is simultaneously a theatrical play, a grocery list, a deconstruction of laughter (you have to read it to understand), and uniquely poetic. At times it is almost nonsensical, but charming all the same. For Mancini, "Writing is not language. Writing came first."
A More Perfect [
In A More Perfect [ Jimmy McInnes deconstructs President Barack Obama's speech from March 18, 2008 and lays bare its grammatical base. McInnes not only strips the source text of its manipulation of language and specific phrasing, but also emphasizes those techniques in order to make their intent apparent. A More Perfect [ changes the way we look at politics, from cynical, to both cynical and wary. Despite breaking down motivation to its barest form, its syntax, McInnes actually makes the power of language all the more apparent. While the book is hard to read, in a standard sense, it also demands to be read. If you are looking for an even more convincing recommendation of A More Perfect [, we suggest checking out the National Post's review. Meanwhile, we encourage McInnes to take this time to "[Pause for applause]"
kevin mcpherson eckhoff
Their Biography by kevin mcpherson eckhoff not only deconstructs language, but deconstructs kevin himself. Like Mancini, eckhoff emphasizes the importance of poetry as communicative and communal, in his case through his use of collaboration. Their Biography is a collage of kevins as described by friends, family, co-workers, strangers, robots, and even adversaries. The result is not simply a construction of kevin mcpherson eckhoff, but of the bonds that tie people together (see the cover.) Kevin deconstructs authorship and the effects it has on the meaning and resonance of language. Like McInnes, eckhoff makes us aware of the constructedness of poetry books while, like Mancini, he has fun: "The author is grateful. The author is extremely grateful. The author wrote the novel 'from an affectionate point of view.' The author is alive, this book is a failure."
This week, instead of reviewing three poetry collections, we interviewed three poets on their experiences working with Turnstone Press and their opinions on the advantages/ disadvantages of local publishing.
—in memory of Wayne Tefs
When Turnstone started there were few Manitoba presses and scarcely any periodicals dedicated to literary writing from the region. Nobody was publishing books of poetry, and nobody had chosen as its mandate the featuring of Manitoba writers.
Turnstone provided a venue for its contributors and potential contributors, many of whom were early in their careers, so early that several published their first books with the press. Having a book in hand made a real difference for writers: they gained exposure and acquired a sense of authenticity. The world has its share of pretend-writers, but a book says to reader and to author alike, the person whose name appears on this book is an actual writer. That certainly was the case for me when Turnstone published my first title, a small chapbook called Leaving.
Turnstone, like other presses, helped to develop a body of writers and writing by providing several services. It read manuscripts, selected them, edited them in consultation with the authors, brought them into print, and to the extent it was able promoted and distributed them. Writers sometimes seem to think, or want to think, that they arrive into print by dint of their own supreme virtues. Talent and diligence are absolutely necessary, but nobody gets into print without the venues. A writing world is dependent upon the complex, varied, and ever-changing systems of support and mediation and attention which precede and extend far beyond the publisher.
After a few years, Turnstone extended its mandate to include writers from elsewhere and a greater range of material. It also published anthologies and books of criticism as part of its efforts to bring prairie writing into a larger conversation and to strengthen the mandate of the press.
Unless you're one of a few top dogs, if you're a Canadian poet, you publish with a small press. Small presses define themselves as regional presses to varying degrees; maybe small presses in Toronto don't think of themselves that way, but you and I know that Toronto is a region, too.
I think there’s a big difference between a small press that publishes exclusively from the region, one that publishes writers from anywhere (in Canada, anyway, unless they want to lose their funding), and one that establishes a balance between the two. If small presses published only local writers, we’d have a much harder time promoting and sharing our work across the country. Writing and publishing scenes are already very localized (especially in isolated places like Winnipeg), and if they were exclusively so, I think they’d run the risk of becoming overly navel-gazing. Plus, a lot of writers are nomadic, moving around for this teaching position or that residency. When do you know you when you’ve become a writer “from” somewhere? I mention everywhere I’ve lived in my writer’s bio, because I still feel like all of those places are a part of who I am.
Two of my books have been with publishers in the city where I was living—the current book with Turnstone, and the first one with Pedlar (both Beth Follett and I were in Toronto at the time). The middle two were with Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia, where I’ve never lived. In all cases, I’ve felt the same tender loving care with small presses, regardless of my proximity to them (Andrew Steeves writes letters by hand!).
Of course, it is extra-nice that Turnstone is just a couple blocks from my office – sometimes dropping by for tea with the publisher is just what a girl needs. My new book Exquisite Monsters is a bit complicated production-wise, and I think that I'd have been a bit more anxious about it had I been with a publisher across the country.
K.I. Press is a Winnipeg writer who's also lived in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, and rural Alberta. Her books are Pale Red Footprints (Pedlar), Spine (Gaspereau), Types of Canadian Women (Gaspereau), and Exquisite Monsters (Turnstone, forthcoming spring 2015). You can find her at kipress.ca or @kipress.
A locally-published author critiquing the means which enabled the first intimations of his career, would be an inspired Judas figure indeed, and I will reject being this due to continued loyalty. I owe so much to Turnstone Press that I cannot begin to tell it in full—I will just say they were considerate, hard-working and inspired. But the question of whether we should publish local authors is one that evokes the age-old (to put it somewhat ironically) questions of regionalism, which has been an intrinsic subject for the postcolonial effects of Canadian culture. In the past, there has existed a belief, an ideology and, dare say, a selfinterrogative trial with a list of Kroetschean absences as slippery “evidence”, that great work is written elsewhere, and that we should try and participate in the great dialogue with asides in limited realism that never reaches a performativity of anything, barely reaching distant places of importance. This colonial assumption is indirectly a property of our Canadian modesty, a euphemistic form of censorship in which the great sweeping prairies recall Atwood's “Let me out!” cry in the too-open space that is subject of her poem “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer.” Can one really have a delusion of grandeur on the prairies? Is a question we could consider as a problem for artists to riff off to replace agoraphobia (Atwood also has written of national pathologies, why not prairie ones) though it seems that my question is rhetorical and that the qualitative is lynched in our space. Yet, I would argue that local presses are pioneers who must consider a more experimental forming identity, and that not publishing local writers would be tantamount to colonization, even as I acknowledge that this academic terminology could in fact undo (I said deconstruct originally and then laughed at myself) itself because it seems such an improbable word. In the not always formal poetry scene here, publication causes an imagined rupture with the simulated oral culture that is somewhat akin to ideas of speech having “privilege,” because it is more genuine, direct. You can, in short, lose a sense of street cred. As I argue in my upcoming book, Postmodern Weather Report, we prairie writers have a simulacra absence now that is a presence, a constructed one via accumulation, having addressed our litote identity enough, as if we were writing an elegy about an eraser. If ten unique people all look at an empty parking lot, their absence is subtly different, and we prairie writers have in fact written thousands of essays on different spaces, the urban built on the rural, and the rural “built” on aboriginal space. There are plenty of excellent poets here, who, for reasons that will belong in our future narratives, want to stay or begin here, and presses like Turnstone are, in part, there to capture it as proof of how we might outgrow our supposed limitations, a verbal documentary. We must address ourselves with our own sense of relevance and that questions, even of doubt, are better than the given arrogance of places that “matter” in an axiomatic sense; this is a sign of character that our presses engage, instead of bringing in outside voices to define us, they work an inside/out model.
Kristian Enright is steadily plotting but madly working on his next artistic move—currently, he is involved in the making of a book of poetry called "Postmodern Weather Report" but he has distant plans for a novel as well. He is also working as an events host at McNally Robinson, where he has found another pulse of literary activity following his fall from the Ivory tower, and is living in the Village wishing he could be more like Gertrude Stein while enjoying his impulse to write.