Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sunday Poem


JUDGEMENT DAY 
Earth abides. And the sun also rises.
But nothing could prepare me for the shock,
Vanity of vanities, the crisis
Of Arnold beamed down nude between two trucks,
He who had prophesied his endless cycle,
And now was back, and up to his old tricks.

He needs your clothes, your boots, your motorcycle,
But instead gets a cigar to the heart,
Which goes and goes, cold as an icicle.

Dad and I sit in air-conditioned dark,
The popcorn melting like communion,
And the cinema sits in a car park

On a Florida night hot as a kiln.
A molten abstraction becomes a man,
T-1000, who looks like anyone,

Even a Midwestern police officer,
Or your foster mom with a sword for an arm
Who skewers your dad for drinking from the carton. 
The devil’s in everything. Laid as linoleum,
All he has to do is touch her skin
And then he’s her. But something of her charm

Is lost in his cold impersonation.
You catch him by the tingle up your spine—
Her smile inorganic, reptilian,

Too saccharine when she says Woolfie’s fine,
Woolfie’s just fine, dear. John, honey, it’s late.
Please don’t make me worry. Slamming the pay phone,

Schwarzenegger says: Your foster parents are dead.
Your saviour too is cold, born with a gun,
And will deglove his arm to prove a point: 
Not only is evil steel. So is good,
A solid machine forged in fire and quenched,
Austempered to be your personal god,

A real badass, pure Old Testament,
Who’ll kill a man for looking at you weird.
I stare up at my dad, whose temperament 
Could quicksilver, and hold our tenuous world
On his mercurial surface. Even I,
Annealed with his blood, beaded and bobbed 
Across his mirrored pool. Reflecting light
From the screen, T-1000’s changes ring,
Weltering upon Dad’s human face.

The wind changes direction, rivers run
From the sea, and they’ve travelled time for you,
The troubled child who might save everyone 
With his own cold resolve, on Judgment Day,
August 29th 1997,
When the nascent machinery awakes, 
And nukes humanity off to heaven,
Their bodies blown like leaves in the swelter,
Sheltered in a boy’s Ferris-black pupil.

Armageddon roars in a smelter—
Schwarzenegger pours liquid nitrogen
Onto the shape shifter, who falters 
Then freezes. But a fire in the projection
Booth erupts, as from a SkyNet warhead,
And the film flares and melts at ignition—
Judgment Day. The visible scorched to tephra,
Fusing pyroclastic lapilli white,
The disembodied soundtrack playing on.

The night is igneous. It isn’t right.
And in the car, I’m not sure why, I cried.
Dad jokes WE’LL BE BACK, shifts into drive,

And rolls the windows down and then we ride
Down US-41, to the tin sea, where
The sun also sets. And the stars abide.
From The Scarborough (Signal Editions, 2014) by Michael Lista 

A Grave Man


The September Quill & Quire is out of the gate with the first review of Michael Lista's The ScarboroughMicheline Maylor is wowed ("technically brilliant, precisely researched, and formally astute") but is also struck by the poet's "concentrated eye on evil":

Right from the devastating cover image, Michael Lista’s The Scarborough is rife with craft and cultural implication. A VCR-tape masks a grinning skull with a sickly smile evoking Shakespeare's Mercutio: “Ask for me / tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” The visual rhetoric is only the first indication that the poetry collection, which takes place on the 1992 Easter weekend of Kristen French’s disappearance and murder at the hands of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, will layer metaphor, geography, psychology, mythology and pop-culture... Lista’s intentions are not to mollify or explain, but to catalogue and signify an ugly time and place in Canadian crime history with the precision of the obsessed.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Predator Franchise


Jason Guriel calls Michael Robbins' sophomore effort, The Second Sex—his second book in as many yearsa "rush job."
If the American poet William Carlos Williams was right, and poems are machines, then Robbins’ best are like those drones Amazon proposes will one day deliver our literature and toilet paper: sleek content delivery systems that ruthlessly zero in on, and engage, our attention. But the poet should take note of his predecessor, Seidel, who waited sixteen years to follow up a scandalous debut. The more effective move after making a statement like Alien vs. Predator—and the more provocative prank—might’ve been to appropriate the one strategy a successful poet can afford, but which Robbins doesn’t seem to have much considered: a little bit of silence.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Heedlessness


In a new interview, Evan Jones asks Elise Partridge about her lines “let me be a waterfall / pouring a heedless mile” and how the wish squares up with her self-possessed and scrupulously controlled poetry. Her answer:
The wish I mentioned here was about trying to be authentic, unencumbered and generous—to live headlong without clinging to things I might sometimes think I wanted, much less to the trivial—about life being constantly unpredictable, and wanting to live with as much spontaneity and vitality as possible. The poem did grow out of the illness, though the wish had been there before; I think perhaps the illness made it stronger. After wondering whether or not my life was going to end much earlier than it might have otherwise, naturally, I had to think about how I wanted to live from then on. Things I had wanted to happen were not going to happen because of the cancer, and this at first seemed catastrophic; and yet other things that turned out to be important did happen because of the cancer. This put paid to the idea that one can always trust what one wishes for. Nobody would wish to have cancer, yet it undeniably brought things to my life that were, to my great surprise, valuable. Also, after having been so ill, I found I wanted to be bolder about many experiences. Fearing one might be deprived of chances can of course motivate one to take more chances. The heedlessness was about being freer—not constraining oneself in any defeating way—and simultaneously about being ‘freer’ in the medieval sense of the word: open-handed, generous. As far as not being heedless in terms of writing poetry, I sometimes wish I could work faster, but most of the poems I eventually publish take me a long time to finish. There are a couple of remarks I keep in mind about being heedful. Szymborska was once asked why she hadn’t published more. She replied, “I have a trashcan in my house.” And then there’s Théophile Gautier: “Anything which is not well-made doesn’t exist.”
(Painting of waterfall by Hiroshi Senju.)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

“Why the heck didn’t they just say so!”


In an excerpt from his upcoming collection of essays. Echo Soundings, Jeffery Donaldson flags an important truth about the art.
Poems are made of words, words that are everywhere outside you and inside you. We are in the midst of words. They do things, tell us things, tell us to do things, convey information, cajole, argue, and convince; they lie and feint and finesse; they go before and between; they explain and justify; they are well nigh indistinguishable from our thoughts and perceptions, our mindset, the culture we inhabit. The poem sits in the midst of all this verbal noise. It is hard not to assume that poems are trying to do the same thing in the world as other linguistic conveyances. So much of our criticism about literature and our teaching of it falls back on the assumption (often useful, as far as it goes) that the task of a poem, just so, is to convey information, convince you of something, argue a truth, compel or command, sway a disposition. But it can seem to do so very poorly, since it often makes so much fuss about the business. It seems coded by nature to make its own kind of trouble. Keep the teachers in business. Confronted thus, a young student thinks, quite reasonably: “If that’s what the poets meant, why the heck didn’t they just say so!” Poems are out of their element, in over their heads when they try to do the work that an instruction manual, a conceptual argument, a treatise, a political speech, a weather or news report, a science experiment will do much better.

Sunday Poem


SONG OF THE CANISTER'S CONTENTS 
After we thinned out we joined clouds
darkening cleared land and then
we were the shadows of those clouds
crossing open heaths. 
Our green breath had to continue
till we were lingering
molecules causing mild headaches
among Flemish cattle. 
When parts of our advancing front
united with water,
we converted damp wagon tracks
to pickling vats. 
We had no wish other than to float
past tatters of swans
a half-mile above our objective
in the scored earth.
The one who housed us in metal
had a chemist wife
who shot herself with his pistol
upon our dispersal. 
If only a huge ventilator, poised
to buoy us skyward,
could have been deployed
by top-flight sappers. 
But wrists had to go awry as wind
stroked us northwest
through sandbagged parapets
into scorched lungs.

From Bit Parts for Fools (Goose Lane Editions, 2013) by Peter Richardson

“Song of the Canister’s Contents” contains a reference to Clara Haber (1870-1915) who shot herself not long after learning of her husband Fritz’s success at putting chlorine gas into cylinders and supervising its dispersal at the Second Battle of Ypres.

The Murderer


In June, the Nickel Film Festival in St. John's screened the results of the first-ever cinepoetry project which paired local filmmakers with local poets to create short films. One of those films, The Murderer, was based on the same-titled poem by Shoshanna Wingate that's included in her debut, Radio Weather.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Mom Poems


Amanda Jernigan shares her thoughts about motherhood as an inspiration:
I have a two-year-old, and another child on the way. Given the proliferation of mombooks on the market, you might think motherhood an exhausted subject—for books, if not for poetry. But if you think about the poems that have come down to us in English, the great body of them are written by men (in the fifth ed. of The Norton Anthology of Poetry—the table of contents of which represents decades of scholarly excavation, to retrieve the works of female poets—still only a fifth of the poems are by women). This is not to say there have not been great poems of motherhood, written by both men and women. But I feel that there are many unexplored possibilities here, still, both thematic and formal. (It is tempting to say, ‘The great poem of motherhood has yet to be written.’ But that’s really just a pep-talk to myself. And, lately I’ve been wondering if in fact the great poem of motherhood has been written, and it’s Janet Lewis’s ‘A Lullaby’.) I was reading recently Dan Chiasson’s review of new work by the American poet Rachel Zucker, in The New Yorker. He talks about her work as that rare thing, a poetry of motherhood that gives the effect of having been actually ‘written … under the conditions it describes.’ I’m still not often able to write under the conditions of early motherhood, all-consuming as it is: there just isn’t the time to work up an idea, often, even when the idea is there. Which often, it isn’t: so much of early motherhood is averbal. One tends to think in ways that are other than linguistic. But, then, great poems are made as much out of silence as they are out of speech, and I tell myself that the way to new poems is to immerse myself more deeply in this seeming interruption, rather than to bridle at it.
(Photograph by John Haney.) 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Who the Hell Was This Al Purdy?



Drew Gough offers a stunning mediation on the experience of embracing a poet he once spurned:
For years, I’ve been looking for Al Purdy. But not before I spent years avoiding him, in the same way I avoided everything from the place where I grew up. I had the firm conviction that when you leave home—especially if home is a farm that doesn’t work as a farm, where the power is sometimes shut off because the electricity bill hasn’t been paid, on a laneway populated with tarot card readers, glass-blowers, playwrights and a woman firmly believed to be a witch, near a small town with no industry other than tourism and barely that anymore—you want to stay gone. You scorn home when it peeks its head into the new life you’ve built: during a casual run-in with an elementary school classmate on the streets of your new city, or when a poem about it appears on a third-year university syllabus. So entered Purdy into my early twenties, a lumbering force I was determined to dislike. “The Country North of Belleville?” When I said the name of his most famous poem in my head, it was always posed as a question. What, in the country north of Belleville, in the country I was trying to forget, could be worthy of a poem? What was there but rocks and hills and kind-of-pretty trees and funny names left behind by families who settled there and failed to build much? And who the hell was this Al Purdy?
(Photograph of Al Purdy's A-Frame cottage in Ameliasburgh, Ontario by Derek Shapton.)

Fighting Death with Excess



In a recent exchange with Michael Lista about his new collection, The Scarborough, Jason Guriel notices that, for a book with such a grim subject—one "trespassing on sacred ground," as Guriel puts it—the poems are "fizzing with style and formal energy." Lista explains that's not a coincidence.
One of my favourite moments in art, any art, period, of the last little while, was the final scene of this season’s finale of Mad Men, a show that I normally find too long on design and too short on art. Anyway (spoiler alert!), Bert Cooper has died while watching the moon landing and in the final moments of the show, his ghost returns to sing Don “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” replete with dancing girls and a soft shoe in socks. It was so beautifully human and stupid that I cried. It reminded me of a song from one of my favourite albums, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, the concept album about Anne Frank that I thought a lot about when I was writing The Scarborough; as the album builds towards its terrible finale in “Ghost,” Jeff Mangum sings: "I know that she will live forever / All goes on and on and on / And she goes /And now she knows she’ll never be afraid / To watch the morning paper blow / Into a hole where no one can escape." And then over the roaring reverb, a pipe organ and a bagpipe careen into a punk Barnum-and-Bailey Klezmer jig. It’s in moments like these, when death is met with a gaudy surplus of artistry, that you can see the fine membrane that separates art from religion, what Larkin called “That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die,” something he could never quite bring himself to sneer at because he realized he’d been knitting one for himself his whole life—his poetry. I’m a fan of any art—any poetry—that tries to do that, too, marshal a decorous consolation against emptiness.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Scarborough Trailer



Watch the book trailer for Michael Lista's new poetry collection, The Scarborough, out next month.

For background on the book, go here and here. Stay tuned for details about the launch.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sunday Poem


HEART AS A BARGAINING CHIP: STORY OF A SMALL-TOWN GIRL 
Silly little lifespan only good for growing old. Record the facts,
she says: We swam the Thames. I am the only one to do it—girl
of thirty, flirting with the cabbie, say he looked like Goya, ate
me out beside the entrance of a Marks & Spencer, bobble−headed
Hawaiian eying from the dash. 
I was a teacher for a week—boys of thirteen diddling on while
I talked dirty about colonial history. Had enough? I grew up in a
weathered prom dress circa ’86, spent half a lifetime growing tits.
Sleeves are soaked in heart, sleeps are ever−wrapped in wanting
never to wake up. My sponsor is a monster.
Yoga course in Goa just to be; I had forgotten how to breathe.
These maps for hands, how many lines it takes to make my
psychic aunt insist I’ll live forever. Several thousand sleeps from
being human, chatting with a pint of amber. But I’m blond, I say.
Swear I’ll never suck that pint, that man again.

My gin is sleepy, says it needs to dance for money. I make big
boys buckle in the black light of a haunted hole, this blemished
stretch of Yonge Street. Fact: I am the kindest face to kick The
Canterbury Tales off your table. Don’t want to be your muse but
if I must, just know the record’s never real.
From Knife-Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis (ECW Press, 2013) by Robin Richardson

(Illustration by Caro To)

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Underwriting The Present


In 2012, Emily M. Keeler wondered why Paul Bernardo's crimes keep being reprised in the form of essays, books and poetry:
Even though I’m a bit too young (and originally from a city too far away) to have first-hand memories of what it was like to live during the time when Bernardo was serially raping women across the GTA, or the time shortly after when he and his wife, Karla Homolka, tortured and murdered three teenaged girls—Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy, and Kirsten French—there remains a lingering echo of that terror. The world may be a different place now, and Bernado is behind bars, but lately it seems like this two decades-old story is underwriting some aspect of the present.
Michael Lista, set to publish a poetry collection inspired by Bernardo, has always been quick to clarify his intentions in writing his poems:
I need to make an important distinction here: my new work does not intend “to cover” Bernardo. It’s quite the opposite; It is not about him. It’s more about us, the Canadian imagination, both at the time that Bernardo was committing his crimes, and now, twenty years on, its flaws and allergies. It’s about the twinge of guilt and terror that closes in around that part of our mind when we even mention his name. And I’m looking to see if there isn’t a sympathetic connection that I can represent aesthetically between the solidarity of silence that prevents a mimesis of what happened and the psychopathic personality itself, devoid of empathy (empathy, remember, forces us to feel our neighbour’s pain). It’s a book of poems that isn’t about Paul Bernardo...My interests are in what doesn’t make it into our—especially Canadian—history...Where there is no history, there is no longer an event; and so I suppose my job is to create an alternate event that includes the fact of its exclusion from history.

Libidinous Attention


Adam Thirlwell explores how Pier Paolo Pasolini's work as a filmmaker was driven by his poetry:
Everything he did, he did as a poet. He once argued that “the cinema is substantially and naturally poetic,” and then explained himself with typical bravura: “A cinema sequence and a sequence of a memory or of a dream—and not only that but things in themselves—are profoundly poetic: a tree photographed is poetic, a human face photographed is poetic because physicity is poetic in itself . . . because even a tree is a sign of a linguistic system. But who talks through a tree? God, or reality itself.” An object, like a poem, is just a way for reality to express itself. That was Pasolini’s strange vision, and it allowed him not only his radical politics but also the detail of his thinking, the way the camera in Accattone so often pauses on his characters’ faces, in close-up, as if they’re removed from some Renaissance fresco. He once said that the minimal cinematic unit wasn’t in fact the shot but the objects inside a shot. And in his best poetry, the minimal unit isn’t the line so much as all the details contained in that line—the small utopian freedoms of his libidinous attention.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sunday Poem

NOTE FOUND IN A COPY OF MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM 
Lesley says she’s going to write ya
                so I thought I’d say hello first!
I’m glad you two made up. You’re a great guy
                and Lesley deserves the best. Well gotta go!
I love Jacob! Bye—Robyn
Judging by the abrupt disappearance
               of highlighter, I’d guess
he gave up during Act Two. He? She?
               Did Bryan leave it here,
or was it never delivered?
Bryan,
              I did want to do
what we did last night! I just felt sick
              and like it would take all of my energy!
I did not do anything that I
did not want to do!
Through the windows of the library
              the leaves shiver to the tune
of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.
              It all tastes of the jammy fingers
that last handled these headphones.
Everything we did I wanted to happen!
             You didn’t make me do anything!
If I didn’t want to do something
             or didn’t want you to do something
I would of said something to you about it!
It’s the moment when Helena pursues
            Demetrius into the forest.
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
            Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you
Evidence is emerging to suggest
            that Shakespeare’s plays
may have been written by a sexually liberal
            daughter of Jewish musicians.
Bryan, I love you and I don’t want you 
to feel like you raped me! In the film,
            they’re on bicycles,
and Calista Flockhart, perhaps surprisingly,
            holds her own.
I wonder if there’s a cafeteria on this floor.
You DIDN’T so I wish you wouldn’t feel that way!
            Barbara Johnson has an exceptional essay
on the usage of the second person address
            somewhere on these shelves.
I will not stay thy questions; let me go, 
Or if thou follow me, do not believe
           But I shall do thee mischief in the wood.

Finally, here comes the rain.
           Even inside, the smell of hot pavement
gives the Reading Room an erotic humidity. 
Have Akiko Suwanai’s recordings
           of the Fantasy sold better than others’
because of the cover photo of her, lounging
           with her luscious hair raining down?
You are a pretentious patronizing dickwad. 
Well, I have to go now and pay
            attention to Professor Roberts.
I Love You W/All My Heart!

            Her dotage now I do begin to pity.
Love Always, Lesley Anne Busch. 
I could give this to Mike Roberts
            who might call the police
or at least a student counselor.
            Not that it would change much.
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex
How many wives have, on occasion,
            just lay back and let their men
get it over with? Probably all of them.
            How many men had the senses
to notice, and feel anger or guilt? 
Fare thee well, nymph; ere he do leave this grove
           Thou shalt fly him,
and he shall seek thy love
.
           And which would have been worse for them,
losing the note, or having someone return it? 
Akiko Suwanai tears through the final runs of the Fantasy,
           her hands damp from the rain
that is peppering the library windows.
           Bottom, with his ass-head,
gropes his way toward the spell-bound queen.
From Complicity (McClelland & Stewart, 2014) by Adam Sol

Copyright (c) 2014 Adam Sol. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.