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.
Davis Plett makes word-things, sound-things, and sometimes video-things. Catch him doing all three during the 2017 Fringe Festival in Inertia.
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.
April’s snapshots are brought to you by Molly Cross-Blanchard, and examine facets of family, art, and war through three different subjects: the mother, the father, and the child.
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.
A Bedroom of Searchlights
In A Bedroom of Searchlights, Joanna M. Weston has interwoven violent notions of wartime in Britain with vibrant images of nature in order to elegize her mother, a diametrical woman, who “melts Neapolitan / between red lips” while the speaker merely “tongue(s) / plain vanilla.” The way Weston has interspersed the imagery throughout these poems mimics a speckling – or spattering – of paint on canvas, paying homage to the Mother’s hobby of choice. There is a deep admiration here for the type of woman who channels her rage against a disloyal husband and an unstable nation, allowing her anguish to “flower on canvas / as scarlet tulips.”
On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood
Wolsak & Wynn
These poems take place after the dinosaur extinction, after World War II, after 9/11, after Saddam’s execution, after the Alberta flood of 2013, after the ashes were found “in a box of books... above the waterline.” They have a history – lived and imagined – a backdrop of tragedy and poetry which Harrison seems to present as one in the same, “as if downstream / was another word for heaven.” Using humour, candid voice, and the quirky unpacking of everyday conventions and concepts, On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood explores the relationship between father and son, father and dementia, and father and art. The speaker holds his father’s memory out and up, studying with reverence “the beauty / of a man who found beauty everywhere but in himself.”
Tell Them It Was Mozart
In Tell Them It Was Mozart,Angeline Schellenberg offers readers an honest delving-into motherhood, into the feelings of guilt, of wanting to run away, wanting to “slap,” wanting to abandon; but also feelings of absolute and all-consuming love, an “ultraviolet awe.” The speaker has coined her two children “The Diminutive Professor” and “The Imaginative Child” after their particular characteristics, which the speaker finds both magnificent and paralyzing in their own rights. She explores ideas of motherly expectation, judgement, and self-preservation in the face of words like “Asperger's,” “genetics,” and “diagnosis.” This whirlwind collection of mistakes and triumphs, of flushing campground toilets with gusto, reminds readers that no two encounters with parenthood are the same; “There is no sin in the stumble to surrender.”
February’s snapshots come to you through memories of lives lived, explorations into the nebulous interactions that shaped yesterday and which, in turn, help shape tomorrow with the ultimate hope that this time we’ll do better and the valid concern that we may not. Brought to you by emerging Winnipeg poet Perry Reimer.
book of short sentences
As Matrix’s David Barrick notes, alice burdick focuses “on the sound and spark of her language,” indeed, frequently, in book of short sentences, she plays with the sounds of words, questioning the connections between words that sound alike, but share no morphemes. Much of this collection is preoccupied with the way everything is fragmented yet connected, but our modern culture reduces the world to its fragments, treating it like a city for tourists, where we only want to “take/ photos of the world; let’s not live/ here.” And though the speaker seems ambivalent when she says “look back or don’t, it doesn’t matter. The/ meaning is in propulsion and going on,” she urges us to not forget, “don’t forget” the way two bodies meet in acts of desire, but also “don’t forget being along/ and investing in instruments of pleasure.” We must remember those traces of our past that helped create the person we are today, remember that we are a “human vessel in which we carry pain, memory, joy, and existential bewilderment” and even though we may reject the systems imposed upon us in our youth, we must not reject how those systems also helped to shape us.
Richard Osler’s Hyaena Season is also highly preoccupied with memory, spending much of its time navigating a remembered life with the speaker’s father, where past blends with present and love is repeatedly compared to tools – things that have the power to sculpt and build, but things which also have the power to maim and shatter. And unlike the wooden heart in “Plane Truths,” which the father molds with ease, the hearts of the speaker and his sister are not so easy for the father to shape. He is better suited to the practical work where he can “feel/ how smoothly hands move over wood,” but when it comes to the abstract world of words and caring the father proves inept. But Osler doesn’t spend the entire collection on the complicated love of a father; in “Long Way Home,” he slips into the unassuming caring of a lover who wants you to “Burden me./ We never know the time/ we have left./ Say it all,” a sentiment which rings back into each poem about the speaker’s relationship with his father. In the third section of the collection, Osler embarks with the reader on an international tour, spending much time in post-genocide Rwanda where the speaker asks, “How can he hope to understand 800,000 dead?” Unfortunately, like when the speaker wonders “how long love lasts in a grave,” this collection, a heartfelt exploration of love and a poet’s place in the world, offers no simple answers.
The Duende of Tether Ball
Tim Bowling’s The Duende of Tetherball, likewise deals with memory and, like Hyaena Season, also deals with what it means to be a father, albeit from the perspective of a father raising his young. Bowling’s speaker is ever concerned by how his fatherhood will shape his children, hoping to leave space for them to grow into themselves, noting that “it is a crime to command life.” Beyond this concern with his own ability to nurture, is the broader concern “that the culture/ lies about youth to get even for losing it.” And it is this adulthood lament that runs through many of the poems, the apprehension that we, as the generation that fosters today’s youth, are bringing up generations who, instead of asking have I “encouraged the heart from the nest”? ask “Have you done all you could/ to pay down the mortgage/ you took out/ on who you thought you’d be/ ten thousand recess bells ago?” This is a collection that interrogates the motives of parenthood, understands the absolute weight of life, but urges, nonetheless, that by the time you “finally never get up at all/ your eyes full, not with pain – no –/ but with every singular inessential/ second you had your children as children in your life,” you’ll be able to look back with fulfillment.