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.
August’s snapshots are brought to you from the dreamy/dreary recesses of the minds of three female poets, where the universal questions live.
Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Winnipeg poet and playwright who will be pursuing graduate studies this fall. Her work has appeared in CV2 and The Malahat Review.
According to the all-knowing Google Dictionary, to “maunder” is to “talk in a rambling manner,” or to “move or act in a dreamy or idle manner.” These seemingly contradictory definitions come to a head in Claire Kelly’s eclectic collection, Maunder, which seems to be fixated on movement and the intention (or lack thereof) behind it, “stillness promising action.” Kelly uses the backdrop of an industrial city to frame these poems, studying what does – and does not – happen there, “how / daily drama is avoided, with the monotonous / tick-tick-tick of a turn signal.” Each poem is a portrait of browns and greys, like “a cigarette- / pack lung,” but with harsh accents of colour: “acid-reflux / green,” “bubblegum / not yet trodden on,” and “anything that clashes.” She juxtaposes lights and darks, crafting a book that is “Half the ghost of Marley / jangling and clanking, / half When a bell rings, / an angel gets its wings;” Yin and Yang at its most apt.
University of Alberta Press
In Little Wildheart’s very first poem, Micheline Maylor establishes an understanding with the reader that what’s to come is irrelevant, telling us we’re running “daily toward [our] own cremation.” But we read on anyway, because there’s “purification in it.” Maylor doesn’t shy away from the “big” ideas here, the ones we’re taught to avoid in our writing for fear of being *shiver* ambiguous: history and mortality, origins and endings, the immeasurability of time, space, and citizenship. It feels as though the speaker is sitting on a cloud above us, narrating the confusing bits of life with eloquence and intelligence. And at the same time, she is astutely aware of her own shortcomings, resulting in a humorously unfaltering honesty. For instance: “I want to love you all. But I dislike Stephen Harper,” or, “My fortune cookie says, make friends / with a man with a horse. I wish it said, hung like.” The clever use of rhyme and villanelle-like form throughout the collection lends a spattering of auditory colour to an already vibrant cadence. Little Wildheart is a collection that wants to have a simple conversation with its readers about some very complicated ideas and, somehow, it works.
Rag Cosmology is not a collection you read for the narrative, it is a collection you read for the language, the individual fragments of image and revelation. Erin Robinsong, an “Ecopoet,” has re-imagined the entire universe in her debut collection. No, really. In this collection, there are blacked out pages, there are photographs from 1993, there are single lines on a page, there are letters scattered haphazardly, there are “swimming vaginas with eyes on earth.” At times, she seems to emulate the rhythm and form of B.P. Nichol, and at other times, she is reminiscent of nothing but her own unique voice. In the section called “Polygon,” Robinsong takes advantage of homonyms and the space on the page, stripping the poems down to their rawest poetic (and sometimes nonsensical) devices in a way that I can’t justifiably translate into this “Snapshot” form. You’ll have to read it yourself.
These are poems that breathe. Hold your breath because they are poems that hold grief, rage, and loss, and maybe even you.
Davis is a Winnipeg intermedia artist working with poetry, audio/composition, and performance. At the 2017 Fringe Festival, you can catch Davis channeling Keanu Reeves’ legendary 1995 MTC performance as he tackles the role of One-Man-Hamlet in INERTIA, a collectively created performance about queer dance parties, beer tents, theatre ghosts.
Jennifer Still has an enormously generous presence in Winnipeg’s poetry community. She was the first person I ever showed my poetry to; “score for breath”, was the note she left in the margins. Comma is a symphony of breath, of space, of erasure but not of destruction: “Erasure as regeneration,” as Still writes in the haunting prose poem / essay that sits, quietly, in the middle of the collection. Erasure poems feature in the collection, using as their source material a hand-written field guide to prairie grasses the poet discovered while her brother—the author—was in a coma. But grief here is not a melodrama played out for voyeurs, although many of the poems are heartbreaking (from the poem “COMA”: “A sundog is a coma, the broken halo of your mouth. / You smile 22° distant above the horizon. [….] A coma is a comma, the starfall of your hair. / I wait for you in the comb sounds.”). Perhaps the greatest achievement of these poems is their poetic rigor in the face of tragedy, their refusal of bathos, their commitment to performing the gaps of grief as a page of scattered words and emptiness, to scoring poems for a “shred / of dangled / breath”.
Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us
Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us, Noah Wareness’s first book of poetry, is a punk nightmare, a sharp intake of the lungs, an often unsettling and always weird meditation on realness. It’s funny: “I like my coffee how I like / my own fucking heart.” It’s cantankerous: “fuck whoever came up / with the name noam chompy for a dog.” And it’s deeply enigmatic. The collection's rough diatribes are interspersed with prose poems reimagining The Velveteen Rabbit as a whisper quiet conversation between children’s toys about what constitutes reality. These poems, really the backbone of the collection, are philosophy at midnight, woozy, full of stillness: “Polaris, like a ribbon of old onionskin, twisted away across the Rabbit’s lidless eye. [….] The Rifle stood in the moonlit parlour, her shadow tipping across the floor like a black yardstick.” In Real Is the Word They Use to Contain Us, Wareness eschews lilt, lyric, and love, rejects all conventions of poetic tone, and really just does whatever-the-salty-language he wants. A middle-fingered debut from a poet who scores his poems for the breath of snarling dogs and musings talking rabbits.
To Love the Coming End
Also a debut collection, Leanne Dunic’s To Love the Coming End is the most traditionally narrative of these collections. A writer on the move, slowly, haunted by a disappeared partner as she wanders from Canada to Singapore to Japan, is cursed by the tragic numerology of love: “This November features a series of elevens: 11-11-2011. Slender ones paired with their likeness. Posed together and apart, forever parallel. Is one still the loneliest number, or is it eleven? [….] November: our birth month. Late autumn, we are. When dark comes early.” First/1st-person reflections on relationships bleed into a traveler's private moments listening to rock music: “King Crimson’s Red album. The title reminds me of maple leaves, Mao Tse-Tung, the rising sun. You. [….] The fan quivers above me. From my window, illuminated haze obscures the night sky.” A thin line separates the seismic tectonic shift caused by loss from the threat of destruction in the metropolis: “Singapore grows, a city of glass, as if there is no threat of plates and quakes.” To Love the Coming End breathes slowly, privately, in the sort of personal moments that are perhaps only possible in a foreign land. Every square inch of blank paper that frames these fragmentary entries conjures the cavern of the unconscious, a world of flickering thoughts, captured shards of memory, epiphany glimmerings. Read on a rainy day, and, if you dare, “Inhale. A damp breath.”