May 2, 2017
Pilfer! This month’s Snapshots features poetry collections that are sly and sneaky and steal your wallet. These poets are societal dumpster-divers, and they light up culture’s junkyard like it’s the Fourth of a pretty ironic July. Lock up your secrets and seal your lips. The poets are coming.
Kathy Mac’s Human Misunderstanding is a pastiche of found text, paradox, and quiet rage. The collection is split into three sections. One pairs dreamy word-visions of a modern poet-philosopher wandering a lovelorn city with quotes from David Hume’s “Enquiries Concerning Human Misunderstanding.” Mac has a knack for the poetic juxtaposition of previously unrelated materials, and hum[e]an misunderstanding is everywhere where one turns. Another section of the book examines a series of Canadian court cases involving assault charges and potential deportation of persons to countries where they might face torture and death. Language itself gets hurt in these poems; legalistic lingo gets chewed up and spit out by the tragedies it fails to completely account for. Perhaps the most surprising section of Human Misunderstanding compares Omar Khadr to Harry Potter. The results are a harrowing indictment of media portrayals of Khadr as either a tortured hero or a demonic villain: “Harry Potter’s self-sacrifice shields his friends and allies. He tells Voldemort: ‘They’re protected from you. […] You can’t touch them.’ / Nothing—no legal precedents, no UN Conventions, no International Treaties—protected Omar Khadr.” Human Misunderstanding doesn’t offer easy answers; it dismantles them.
“The Word Liberation Front prepares / language for safe, sincere appreciation” chimes the speaker of “Do Not Revere Popular Music,” and nothing could be further from the ambitions of Jamie Sharpe’s Dazzle Ships. The collection is an escapade through language where “Words took the long / weekend off” so “We might as well go bowling.” Poems about hockey players cross-check poems about computers which carom into poems about the poet’s previous collections. Poems about writing are left, right, and always way off center: “You think it’s a small poem / fixated on life’s everyday minutia— / trivial, but instantly recognizable / bits of the day. // Then a confusing metaphor is made / using the mutant, Kuato.” Silliness abounds as Sharpe somersaults through language and nabs nuggets from arts award ceremonies, email scammers, and even himself.
Undoubtedly the most structurally rigorous collection of this month’s Snapshots, Same Diff takes poetry to the art gallery and then there’s an explosion. The collection compiles stock phrases used to justify racist sentiments (“I only meant it as a joke / Political correctness has taken so much fun out of the world / If you move to a new country, you should absorb its customs and values”) in monotone monologues that become as nauseating as they are exhaustive. It instructs the reader in enormous, all-caps propaganda posters to “LOOK / AWAY”. It welcomes the reader to the collection with a list of greetings in a number of languages whose speakers are under threat. The poem concludes with “welcome” in English and Latin. If Same Diff takes some fun out of the world, it’s because that fun was never there to begin with; the signs and symbols of egalitarianism always circle back to the dialects of imperialism. Perhaps the most extraordinary poem of the collection is “Bottom of the Pot,” a nineteen-page elegy simply comprised of quotes from prisoners-of-war, Holocaust and gulag survivors, and soup-kitchen users. Each quote returns to the same basic observation—that soup from the bottom of the pot is most desirable because it has the most nutrients and substance. Mancini’s lists, with their insistent repetition and procedural tenacity are monumental, glacially shifting edifices that deface empire’s pristine walls with their own babble. Mancini [re]says the same things over and over, collects linguistic violence and travesties under the heading “same diff,” contending that there is no essential difference between them; that taken together they are the testimony to patterns of physical and ideological violence. Same diff? Mancini doesn’t think so. Neutrality is not an option.