While at first glance these books may not seem that similar, there are a few things that made us decide to group them together. Number one is their beautiful, vibrant, and eye-catching covers which will probably make this one of our most colourful review blog entries for years to come. Secondly, all three of them mix poetry with visual diagrams in ways that are surprisingly funny, poignant, and meaningful. Finally, they are all incredibly unique — from each other as well as from poetry as a whole — and they all deserve to be read.
Couch House Books
Jon Paul Fiorentino's Needs Improvement "exceeds expectations." From "alyrical vilanelles" to a story told through report cards, Fiorentino's formal and thematic ideas are original, fresh, and funny. His deconstruction of accepted methods of media inspire us to reconstruct our own meaning in the gaps — the gaps in language, the gaps in communication, and the gaps in meaning — the absences of experience that we all share. Needs Improvement frees us from our own introspection by inviting us to join together in "the collective of the lonely."
House of Anansi Press
In The Polymers, Adam Dickinson mixes poetry with science in a way that makes us wonder why the two aren't combined more often. Dickinson's use of a clear plastic page at the beginning of the collection establishes the setting for his later observations on the plasticity of human behaviour in today's culture. Through his exploration of polymers as "the basis of both synthetic and natural plastics," Dickinson's writing is able to simultaneously represent both the real and the fictive, the literal and the metaphorical, and the scientific and the artistic. The Polymers is complicated, but not in the way you might expect. It is challenging, but it is playful, a sort of contradiction of itself and, much like plastic, the writing is both natural and constructed.
Coach House Books
MxT stands for "Memory x Time," which is poet Sina Queyras' formula for measuring grief. In MxT, Queyras appropriates and deconstructs diagrams in a way that is both appealing and terrifying. We lose all sense of navigation through her rhythmic, nauseating, and beautifully honest repetition of loss. Her memories, turned "over and over like an old coin," both playful and serious, are "mapless." Queyras as theoretically addresses the impossibility of conveying grief with language and then goes on to challenge her own claim through the powerful emotion of her writing.
This week we look at three books that acknowledge, manipulate, and deconstruct the codification of language in order to reconstruct new meanings. All three of these books have long and detailed notes sections that provide fascinating details on the construction of the poems and the history of language.
X: Poems & Anti-Poems
In X, Shane Rhodes uses all types of language (from the visual to the experimental) and anti-language (from quoted internet comments to illegible graphic art) in order to tell both the history and anti-history of Canadian colonization. "This book," he writes, "was written in the gaps between words written and words spoke, words meant and words meant only to fill in the space of meaning/ This book I will continue to write until I get it right, and I will never get it right". X's back cover is a duplicate of the front cover, bringing the book full circle in an unending narrative dialogue, like a "circle [of] wagons: in ink."
Goose Lane Editions
"Polari," from the Italian parlare, is a coded anti-language that was at one time spoken by gay men for cover. In his eleventh poetry collection, Polari, John Barton creates his own coded language of the everyday and the secretive. Just as his poetry creates new meanings out of old words, he revives and recreates old forms such as the villanelle, the sonnet, and the glosa. As Shane Rhodes puts it, Polari, is "sometimes traditional, sometimes blue, sometimes zhooshy and new, this is poetry plated for pleasure."
Shannon Maguire's fur(1) parachute is an incredibly intelligent act of translation and recreation, as well as an equally self-aware deconstruction of itself. Although fractured and sometimes nonsensical, Maguire's poetry is all the more poignant for its brokenness. Through the breakdown of codes, she is able to create a new, fragmentary language in which she can give voice to the voiceless. Queer and full of desire, fur(1) parachute defies classification and codification.
To jump-start our blog, we decided to feature three eye-catching books that play with formal expectations. This week's selections show us how the poetic deconstruction of both language and form can create new levels of meaning, both textually and visually.
Coach House Books
Multitudes’ eye(s)-catching cover is only a hint of what rests between its pages. Christakos flirts with the language of the digital age in order to teach us how to understand what at first seems unreadable. By breaking words down into their parts, Christakos forces her readers to fill in the gaps, not just in meaning, but between letters. She textually and visually illustrates the interaction between the parts and the whole, the few and the many, and shows us the “multitumultitumultitumultitudes” of meanings in our expanding, networked culture.
The Place of Scraps
The Place of Scraps is an exercise in erasure poetry where the gaps between words mimic the gaps in Canadian history. The book functions as an alternative textbook, one in which the removal of words from their sentences metaphorically parallels the “remov[al]” of “thousands/ of Indians.” The message is one of displacement, of words from their original context, of bodies from place, and of the scraps Abel reconstructs to create a space for dialogue.
Writing Surfaces: Selected Fiction of John Riddell
Wilfred Laurier University Press
In Writing Surfaces, editors Lori Emerson and derek beaulieu re-present a selection of work by John Riddell who has a habit of transforming the textual into the visual. Writing Surfaces features a mix of Riddell’s typewriter-based concrete poetry mixed with some fiction and drawings. His procedural, analogue-based methods of composition, while conventionally illegible, question what it means to ‘read’ poetry and asks us to reexamine what we consider to be poetic.