November’s Snapshots is brought to you by twos, threes, and eights, because in these troubled times of monolithic opinions and personalities, multiplicity seems like a thing worth pursuing. Also brought to you by Davis Plett, Winnipeg based poet, musician, and theatre artist. Catch his work on Erin Shields’ play, Beautiful Man, playing at Theatre Projects Manitoba November 17th – 27th!
Goose Lane Editions
“The only thing I fear,” says the speaker of “Elusive Structure,” “is becoming illutable—an old / way of saying ‘unable to be / washed way.” Ali Blythe’s poems are permeable; they breathe; they create space for identities and expressions that wash away, that are “unable to be,” that are unable to achieve being’s solidity and certainty and don’t really want to anyways. The idea of “two” in these poems does not delineate a division but rather suggests a fluidity and a possibility. Bodies are unwrapped to reveal a generous ambiguity: “It isn’t always / about orifices. // But I am the lunatic sliding fingers in [….] A young Hermaphroditus / undressing in the pool.” A movie’s underwater breath-holding contest ends in uncertainty: “One friend / returns to the surface to die. // The other never resurfaces. / The audience is left to wonder.” Art teaches strange lessons: “I think / about the Dutch artist who learned / to make actual indoor clouds / that dissipate even as one admires / their understanding of existence.” “I become and become,” concludes the speaker of “Elusive Structure.” “I’m sorry to those / who will find nothing left of me.”
The central preoccupation in Sarah Tolmie’s collection is the triangular relationship—the relational trio that, like the infamous three-wheeler atv, is apt to topple. Rivals and poets, children and academics, lovers real and imagined—all of these form pyramids, with their sonnet-spouting speaker at their pinnacle. One hundred and twenty fourteen line poems, replete with requisite rhymes and tumultuous times, plumb the depths of lust, longing, and satisfyingly meta-poetic musings. Some choice lines: “Sequence is not important. I have two / First memories of you”; “Cuddle me gently and don’t talk, dumb jock”; “The love of a poet is a bullet. [….] People flee without knowing what it means”; “Third spring since this began, I am afraid: / Troilus and Criseyde and Diomede. [….] This production / Is low rent. Criseyde does not get laid / But writes the book.” Trio’s concluding poem offers a dichotomy: “You fish the fish or you fish the water: / Two schools of thought from The Compleat Angler / And two theories of love.” Unsurprisingly, the poetics of Sarah Tolmie don’t allow that binary to stand. There is a third theory of love, but this Snapshot leaves it out of the frame and invites you to discover it for yourself.
Patrick Warner’s Octopus has eight arms and can fit through improbably small holes. There are few places it can’t go, and it’ll try to go to them anyways. With a greater narrative focus than Trio or Twoism, Octopus tells tales of drug-addled clubbers (“Her tiny palm / is divided in four by a cross, / each quadrant bearing a postage stamp, // each embossed with a propelling octopus. / ‘To make you swim where few have swum,’ she says. [….] I dab one on the snail-mail of my tongue”), pun-preoccupied agricultural crops (“The pin-head cobs knock heads together, / trade thoughts, as though they were watched, / as though they are afraid to say. They find / camouflage in corny gags and cliché”), and chic boulders (“a forgotten / grey / hoodie / slung / on a boulder / blends in so / well I think / this devil-ma- / care / erratic / has shrugged / off / the yoke / of function / and / grown a style”). A collection that happily wanders the seven seas.
It's September, perhaps you should enjoy these Snapshots with a hot chocolate!
Gruber’s playful visions of marine life lovers, and disastrous dives are kept afloat by a spunky buoyancy of vocabulary and, in spite of the speaker’s assertion in the first “Prologue” that they “can’t hold onto anything,” thematic control. The embodied and the erotic encounter nature again and again with gorgeous tactility. In the madcap car journeys recounted in “Hanged Woman,” “A sticky ball of baby / spiders nests against your corduroy purse. / They spill onto your lap and spring into the world / writhe against your thighs.” “Flash Flood” sees lovers eating pizza, “sprawl[ing] the bed in holey underwear,” “nabashedly human,” “[c]ourse ringlets wash[ing] up against inlet groin.” The collection concludes with a series of poems considering the pros and cons of choosing various underwater animals as your lover (the reasons not to choose the “blue dragon” are stated simply as “You are the real live Pokemon. Pocket monster.” Buoyancy Control is an aquatic caper, a poetic sea change, a colourful expedition into intimacy and language. Dive in.
Slow States of Collapse
Culled from an impressive list of journal and anthology publications, Ashley-Elizabeth Best’s debut collection, Slow States of Collapse, is preoccupied with conflict: the poems' speakers grapple with the complexities of family, ponder romantic relationships, and discover the politics of hospitalization. A speaker’s “carrion heart is stabled / beside deposits of nostalgia” while “[h]is empty flattery mumbled / into rogue word drifts.” Mothers say “be good or be gone,” and doctors “want to know / what my body has been up / to lately.” It is the most diverse of the collections in terms of subject matter, but the loosely collected suites of poems that conclude Slow States of Collapse hint that Best’s future books might take any of the numerous themes she explores with her debut and explore them in a more sustained way than she does here. An intriguing arrival on the Canadian literary landscape and, perhaps, a sort of overture of things to come.
Under the Stone
An unnamed child lives in cell #804 on level 5969 of the Tower. A murderous father kills the child’s siblings and the Tower’s sanitary staff clear the bodies without question. The outside world exists only as a horrific televised wasteland, a fabled void of terror. And everywhere, there is concrete. A prose poem of brutal, even brutalist proportions, Under the Stone is a fascinating monotony, a tower of words split into discrete parenthetical blocks, a dystopian monument to oppressive systems of knowledge. By far the most serious and stylistically restrained of these collections, Under the Stone exists on the fault line between novel and poem, exploring a monochromatic world haunted by the ghost of self-conscience. Dark but deeply engaging.
Another full round of Snapshot reviews by Davis Plett!
Seasoned poet Monty Reid’s Meditatio Placentae is a well-seasoned (not too salty, none too sweet) romp through suites of verses describing: ordinary kitchen objects invested with a weight that feels like consciousness; a pop-up book disheveled by the ravages of infant teeth; objects from a construction site deconstructed and then reconstructed by language; a woman lost in the woods who nevertheless is enchanted by the light; an actor who is told by the director of a production of The Vagina Monologues that she needs to get a “moan coach”; and, at the book’s conclusion, an amusingly self-referential series on Reid’s relationship with the contributors’ notes. Nestled in the center of the volume is the titular suite, a surreal series of poems written from the perspective of a retained placenta. The poems in Meditatio Placentae achieve a certain quirk and whimsy, less through turns of phrase than turns of imagery; Reid is a master of suite, of sustaining and transforming an image or idea through sequence of poetic Mr. Potato Head interventions.
Mother Tongue Publishing
Kerry Gilbert’s collection of prose poems is as taught as its title. An exquisite ode to the poetics of structure, Tight Wire is organized into a series of ten groups of four prose poems (although the final sample is a single poem). Each group begins with a portrait of a female circus performer—the tightrope walker whose “sweat cuts a new river through her clay makeup, but [it] too goes unnoticed,” the contortionist who makes the audience gasp at “the beautiful, beautiful pain,” the burlesque performer whose dance ends when “the cage covers her once again and the stage goes black, black”—and then presents three portraits of contemporary women, women in surgery, women swimming to save drowning children, women wandering the halls of memory. Where Reid’s poems take ideas out on relatively brief excursions, Gilbert’s collection manages to sustain its theme for an entire book. Slowly, the dichotomy between the two worlds of the poems—the circus and the modern world—disappears, revealing the circus’s unacknowledged performers, women trapped in a hall of mirrors that distort language and visage, voice and face. And yet, these mirrors are shattered, the tight wire is snapped, along with the structure of the book itself. “For now,” the final poem soberly concludes, “it is over.” A catalogue of patriarchal systems that encompasses the past and gestures melancholically towards the future, Gilbert’s poems share some of the same whimsicality and rich imagery as Reid, but her poems walk a bolder poetic and political line. The sound of the circus has faded; Gilbert’s poems invite us to consider how they will manifest next.
The most diverse collection of this Snapshots edition, poemw is a playful and sometimes poignant take on gender, nature, and history. In “Why The World Would Be Better Off Without People,” a nervous speaker notes that pigeons’ breasts are “the exact / right size and shape to take an arrow // a delicate arrow from a child’s bow,” then asks the reader to affirm their desire to paint the dying bird: “Don’t you want to paint that? […] // Don’t you?” In “Hair,” a speaker recounts growing up in rural Ontario, where their hair became a contested site of gender, cultural values, and identity: “To me [my mother] said: “Why do you want to look / like a boy?” A series entitled “Questions for Isabella Gunn” speculates on the history of its eponymous subject, a woman who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1806 under the name John Fubister, rewriting a story catalogued only by men: “You died alone, four men’s entries marking your life, / captain, trader, schoolteacher, inspector of the poor.” The book concludes with a cheeky homage to Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” entitled “Thirteen ways of looking at a pair of underpants.” Where Meditatio Placentae takes the reader on crazy journeys fueled by an imagination asking, “what if?”, and demands a sustained attention to the beauty and horror of its images and form, poemw offers warm, quirky poems that readily stand on their own, inviting the reader into a gallery of poetic games and intimate portraits.