Poetry month may be over, but fortunately for us awesome poetry can be read any month of the year. So, get your blankets out, find a supportive tree in the park of your choice and settle down with one of Cult MTL’s summer poetry picks, three recent works that will make you fall in love with contemporary Canadian poetry.
For Display Purposes Only, by David Seymour (Coach House, 2013)
Do you want to see the words “ratiocination,” “borborygmic” or “prognosticate” used in a sentence? If so, this is the volume of poetry for you. Seymour’s poetry doubles as brain candy for linguists and cultural theorists alike. His most recent book, For Display Purposes Only, offers an astute and ambitious interrogation of spectacle, performance and representation, throwing our own habits of aesthetic judgment into relief. That’s right – David Seymour has produced a volume of poetry so unfairly meta, it’s almost impossible to critique.
“Wild Lines” – the book’s opening poem, which also acts as a kind of synecdoche for the entire project – admits defeat at the scene of manufactured domesticity. A relationship is reflected in disturbed dust bunnies, flakes of skin and HD television. There is an apartment that can perform an “accurate impersonation” of itself.
Appropriately, however, nothing is as it first appears in this book, and one soon discovers that Seymour’s domestic relationship is actually a metaphor for the craft of writing poetry, for “the best design survives/ narrative compulsion” and “plot points” plague non-narrative art as much as they plague the act of living. This poem searches for a way to escape the strict lines of representation – blurring the boundaries between life and art – finally dissolving into “behaviour,” and offering no such reprieve from form except perhaps in its unsettled dust bunnies.
Scroll down to see a cinematic trailer for For Display Purposes Only, “Eyewitness Testimony,” part of an ongoing collaboration with Toronto filmmaker Jeremy Munce that highlights the book’s preoccupation with the boundaries of representation.
Need Machine by Andrew Faulkner (Coach House, 2013)
If you’re one of those people who claims to just “not get” poetry, I dare you to read this book. This is a frighteningly sharp dispatch from the modern mid-20s intellectual condition, and it’s worth reading just for its crisp imagery – shadows that “rise like Wac-A-Moles,” relief “like the conclusion of a pregnancy scare” and a distracted mind that “trots off to a corner and licks its genitals.” These kinds of images could convert even the most obstinate narrative-junkie to the world of poetry.
In Faulkner’s poems, humans are needy, bored, distracted creatures, lazily searching for stuff to fill the emptiness. But while this sensibility rings “been there, done that, on HBO two years ago,” Faulkner’s voice is fresh. He tangibly explores the sensory perceptions of distraction – a too-familiar consciousness divided between sex and Seinfeld reruns, where one may end up holding conversations with the air conditioner.
Of note in this volume is “Amen” – a secular prayer to a computer, the poet’s contemporary muse – “Chorus” – an ode to “Toronto the Half-dressed, the Business Casual,” where humans only connect with each other through transportation accidents – and “Smoking Indoors” – an accurate depiction of the pleasure of such sweet liberty, stuck in an imaginary arm wrestle with that infamous bylaw.
I feel chastened after reading this book, and I want more. Please tell me, Mr. Faulkner, how to do more with my life than click Like buttons on Facebook.
Monkey Ranch by Julie Bruck (Brick Books, 2012)
Julie Bruck has remained under the critical radar for a while – a kind of best-kept-secret of Canadian poetry. However, her most recent publication, Monkey Ranch, is the well-deserved winner of the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award. Bruck’s poetry oscillates between the mundane and the whimsical, the whimsical and the darkly political.
Monkey Ranch is a collection of almost-narratives strangely precise in their depictions of everyday scenes. Basically, this is the kind of book that, under certain conditions, might cause your brain to explode. To Bruck, sites of ordinary beauty are also the sites of the reticent existential revelation of what thinly separates us from our monkey-selves.
In the first poem, “This Morning, After an Execution at San Quentin,” a daughter witnesses a singing monkey in captivity and rushes home to tell her father – a supposedly innocent event. However, the act of telling is at once adorable and disturbing. The daughter’s exertions are rendered similar to the monkey’s: “Monkey singing, she will tell him,/ and later, tell every corner of her cool dark room,/ until the crib springs ease because she’s run out of joy,/ and fallen asleep on her knees.” Chew on that.
The rest of the collection shares this fascination with the juxtaposition of the normal and the terrible. There are events so horrible that stopping to reflect upon them may result in complete immobility. A father and daughter walk by a crime scene, knocking a bag of oranges between them without stopping. A family discovers their son’s shoe in a pile of bricks in Baghdad and continue to search for his remains. A groundskeeper offers an umbrella to a weeping man who later goes missing and on and on until we are horrified by our own species’ ability to move on, persevere and survive. ■