Saturday, 19 July 2014

Orphic Struggle

In about six weeks, Vehicule Press will publish Michael Lista's second poetry collection, The Scarborough. The book takes place over Easter Weekend in 1992, when rapist and serial killer Paul Bernardo—who lived in the eponymous suburb of Toronto, where Lista himself grew up—committed his final crime. Bernardo's depravity dominates the poems, yet the psychopath himself is nowhere to be found. (Here's a good example of what I mean.) The reason for this is largely due to Patrick LeSage, the judge who presided over the case. When asked to rule on whether or not the videos of the crimes could be shown in open court, LeSage decided that Canadians could hear the tapes, but not see them. Lista has turned that comment into the formal principle of his disturbing and formidable new book. He explains his intentions in an interview from 2012:
The poems are trying to do two things at once, two things that I can’t disentangle. They need to look like psychopathy—classically proportioned, handsome, manipulative, well-spoken, charming, glib, and ultimately devoid of empathy, uncaring of their true subjects. Underneath them runs a psychotic river, the evil Alph, that they’re able to hide with their public faces. But they also need to look like the dignity that LeSage was trying to safeguard in his ruling on the tapes. You can hear the crimes, the perpetrators and the victims, but you can’t see them. The hell of this all is that after some years of thinking in it, dignity and psychopathy look formally identical to me. The form that lets the Devil sneak in is the same that lets the innocent sneak out. The whole thing is an Orphic struggle, leading something unspeakable out by the wrist into the light, without ever turning to look at it.

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