This week's Snapshots explore historicity, the deconstruction of language, and the beauty of art. In these poetry collections, reading is both an addiction as well as a form of therapy, the words both captivating and transformative.
the boundaries of return
Red Hand Books
Scott Andrew Christensen’s the boundaries of return is an exercise in minimalism that folds in on itself until it collapses, albeit beautifully. The poetry collection is both silently serious and subtlety self-parodying. It reflects its own being and meaning through the deconstruction of fiction which is stunningly brought to life by a sparrow’s collision with a window: “the / broken tea-cup / of this, the / roman theatre / thought / the murderous mirror / the uncourteous curtain / oh! ungracious glass / the / falling / façade / the / other side / of / herself.” His lines are fragmentary, but not lacking. As Christensen says in an interview with Red Hand Books, he is not a fan of the long poem: “To me a poem is the snippet of hair on the barber’s floor, not the wig—its shape, how it fell, how it survived a lover’s tug—a fleeting glimpse before being swept into the bin. I feel something composed in a few lines can be absorbed easily with a linger left on the tongue.” This search for the "something" is what drives Christensen’s poems forward and he is almost obsessive in the way he states, not asks, “does / the window / offer the chance / to remember.”
The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library is a beautifully terrifying look into the obsession of reading: “what I have seen / in books pleases as much as it stings.” Paul Wilson's collection is both an archeology and a deconstruction, a celebration of knowledge and a book burning, and he ties it all together through the almost ritualistic behaviours of humanity: “On a thin sheet, he finds love and death and meter / and listens to all that echoes after.” Bodies and books become one, both tucked away onto shelves and dissected for information. The connection is both comforting and ominous, books and people are one in the same and yet mutually exclusive. It is a paradox of art; nothing is simply one thing: “You can’t trust people in poems / or poems in people to stay in one place, or in one life.” Like Christensen, Wilson is both infatuated with romanticism and destroyed by it. It is a fiction that is both self-aware and seductive, an infinite loop that is impossible to break out of: “Within the smudged pages the playwright enters language / and embraces its blurry-eyed shiftiness. His nib crosses / out words and scratches new ones—dissolving fact into dream.”
Dream Street Details
Shoe Music Press
In some ways, the nostalgia and fascination with the past written into the seams of Dream Street Details is very similar to that of the boundaries of return and The Invisible Library. Linda King, who has been previously published in CV2, weaves the past and the future together in a way that makes the absence of what is gone all the more painful: "everyone’s childhood is the childhood of the other." There is a thematic resonance of long lost naivety that the narrator seems to be trying to reclaim, despite the fact that she understands the futility of her actions: “once / you believed in more than this / words from some ancient dictionary / the sweet musty taste of paper / and you knew how to polish an apple / into a metaphor." While the setting King paints is of an erasable, "continuous present," her message is not entirely without hope. Regardless of obscured words and lost meanings in translation, there is still "the light you find / in small train stations" and the moments of reclaimed romanticism that are both so lovely and tragic.
For this week's Snapshots we focus on three really different books by three really unique publishers. (With three colour coated covers!)
What Lies Behind
What Lies Behind is an work of expression. Not only does Luann Hiebert experiment with her own attempts at expression, but she also speaks to the art of self-expression itself: “a darkroom / crime the photographer forges light / disregards what is hidden / a voyeur, covert, aims click / the aperture you peer through shudders / startles light & divides / /multiplies lies” Fragmentary, but not nonsensical, Luann Hiebert’s poetry compares the everyday to the emotional, the casual to the complex. She explores both the public and personal, as well as the physical and the ephemeral: “hold me while / I read you over & over / & all over me.” Her wordplay is addicting, like a “coat of many colours / lined & buttoned / to the page”, it pulls the reader in to a world of questions and curiosities. As Hiebert asks: “what in the world do we mean / you mean the world to me.”
Saviours in This Little Space for Now
Stephanie McKenzie’s Saviours in This Little Space for Now explores the lives and artwork of painters Emily Carr and Vincent Van Gogh. The poems in this collection are fluid, they run through each other like paint. The lives of Van Gogh and Carr blend together as McKenzie explores the similarities between the artists, both real and imagined. But McKenzie also contrasts Van Gogh and Carr, linking one’s struggle with madness to the other’s difficulties with gender: “To be a woman is always to be mad. / There is no cure.” The emphasis is on sameness as well as difference: “If I’d been born a woman prostrate / falling sexless in the eyes of lords / I’d swear the patterns would be different / in my skies.” Many of the poems in Saviours in This Little Space for Now focus on the search for truth but McKenzie refuses to accept an absolute as the answer. She walks the line between historical truth (as illustrated through the several notes and appendices at the end of the book) and the subjective truth of her art (as seen in her poetry.) She interprets the narratives of Carr and Van Gough not only through their histories, but through their artwork as well. Saviours in This Little Space for Now speaks to the existence of an artist beyond their bodies and into their paint painting, their “little space,” or—even—their poem.
Bonsai Love, like McKenzie’s Saviours in This Little Space for Now, is fluid and intimate. Like McKenzie, Diane Tucker digs deep into the darkest and most beautiful aspects of humanity’s relation to art, music, and literature: “It gets them there in the end. They always fall, laughing, / back into melody, back on to the path, soon enough / for the well-remembered, footsore, sweet refrain.” In Bonsai Love, even the most eloquent moments can be violent. Tucker creates a melancholy so bittersweet it seems to resound endlessly with its empty, but ever-present, pain: “my life / a blue-lit nightmare / into which you blundered.” Tucker sweetly mocks our habits, our desire to put a pin in the stars and “learn / without maps.” The effect is both loving and jarring, both comforting and cruel. We feel alone and in communion when reading Bonsai Love; the experience is spiritual and intimate, but ultimately it tears us from the comfort of our past selves. For more on Diane Tucker, check out this interview with her from PRISM International.
This week's featured books explore what it means to be creative. These collections break the rules, rewrite their own ideas, and even question their own existence. Most importantly, they do what poetry does best by twisting and avoiding what some of the best poetry has done.
Our Days in Vaudeville
Our Days in Vaudeville makes for the perfect transition from last week’s Snapshots because of its emphasis on collaboration. The poetry collection is comprised of collaborative poems by Stuart Ross and 29 other poets (both old and new) who have paired up with him over the years. Ross’ voice is always present, but sometimes it blurs together with that of his collaborators. Sometimes the pieces are conversational, sometimes almost contradictory, and other times completely unified. Our Days in Vaudeville is a fascinating experiment in constraints and, as rob mclennan argues in his review of the book, it puts collaboration up there with what can be considered more “serious literature” (however that might be defined.) Our Days in Vaudeville is funny and creative; it breaks the rules and our prescribed ideas the way poetry does best. As Ross says in his collaboration with Gary Barwin, “do not list me / i wish to remain unlisted / listless.” Our days in Vaudeville finds the poetry between the poets: “First I caress me, then you, / then all that space / between the clouds” (with Jay MillAr.)
Old Hat is the sort of poetry collection we might refer to as “serious literature” because of its strong roots in poetic history and its brilliant use of clichéd forms to create an original statement. That being said, if Rob Winger heard us, he would probably disagree. As he said in his interview with The Toronto Quarterly “what [he] admire[s] least about criticism[…] is seeking affirmation for some limited concept of what a poem is, what work can do, what languages it can speak and why, then judging any particular poem according to such pre-determined criteria.” Old Hat, like Our Days in Vaudeville, resists lists by deliberately deconstructing the familiar, the accepted, and the everyday: “Every time I ride my bike into town, / the sky presents itself in mystery-novel prose.” Winger ironically sets up our expectations when he begins his poem “Re/covering Champlain Trails” with the line, “all poems must include the following”, before refusing his own advice: “screw blueprints, we say, going off the board.” Old Hat is both self-referential and self-aware, taking into its hands the curious relation between originality in relation to its originals: “Through the window, / the fictional world takes stock, / I haven’t built it any more than you have.”
Rua Da Felicidade
New Star Books
Ken Norris’ Rua Da Felicidade is a lonesome travelogue that explores loss, place, and poetic form. As Norris writes about his past experiences, he finds himself trapped in his writing, in sentimentalism and nostalgia, regurgitating clichés. But his awareness is what makes this collection shine: “We were always at our best / when we were pushing against the form.” He addresses the ever complicatedness of form, “even now, I keep on / tangling with these wires”, and fights against it, “when we pushed against the form / it pushed back. So we pushed / again and again / until it yielded.” Rua Da Felicidade is a formal and thematic battle against (and growing understanding of) a postmodern world. Like Stuart Ross’ collaborations, we hear the voices of the many, as opposed to just the one. And all of them are shouting out for creation.