Friday, December 09, 2005

David O'Meara & Shane Rhodes

David O’Meara The Vicinity, Brick Books, 2003
Shane Rhodes Holding Pattern, NeWest 2002; The Wireless Room NeWest 2000

Two poets I am curious to watch develop. Shane Rhodes I discovered through Greenboathouse, David O’Meara, through Brick Books, who kindly sent me quite a few books when I was reading for Open Field. These two poets impressed me then, and I’ve been on the look out for new work ever since. Though O’Meara is a much more formal and restrained poet, both writers share a similar gift of word choice, and both writers have an erotic sense of the line.

I read Storm Still in the Toronto Public Library, and was impressed, particularly with the sonnets if I recall, but I have only The Vicinity with me now to comment on. It’s a finely crafted book, beautifully edited as most Brick Books are. These lines are razor sharp, and not without wit:
The Safety Elevator
(a footnote to Structural Steel)

Not
to
mention
the invention
by Elisha
G.
Otis

whose
levers
and ratchets
connected
operandi
to
modus.
(The Vicinity 14)
There’s a high formal tone here, not one I’m usually comfortable with, but witness the cozy beginning of “Letter to Auden”,
Well then, sir, I thought of you again just recently:
New Year’s ticked in with scant fuss,
The so-called millennium, hyped
To bring disaster—not quite the end of us
(The Vicinity 43)
These poems reminded me of Ken Babstock’s Mean, only there is a little something more open here, a kind of poetic of revelation still more akin to a pewter rose than a bleeding heart. This may be the formal distance, the buttoned down work ethic, or maybe a little of that Ottawa valley austerity, but there is a similar tone and subject matter as others have noted. There are hard revelations, often self aware, as we see in “Grass”: “I stand alone with ten thousand sorrows,/ Work, eat, sleep. Bills, laundry, traffic. Poor/me…” The self in the wilderness of language, in the wilderness of wild, but I admire O’Meara’s ability to make something of gesture, to delight in it. Even making me appreciate rhyme, as he does, in ”At the Aching-Heart Diner”:
She will flavour her coffee with both cream and sugar
And tap on the window as she mentions the weather,
Tossing off sparks when she pulls off her sweater
A poem impossible not to read aloud for the pleasure with phrases like “topples the shaker”, but a poem nonetheless that makes me ache for more, more something, more thought? Depth? This is poetry of praise and delight, but it makes me wonder whether that is enough. It’s finely crafted work, not a word out of place, but after all is said and done I’m not left with anything to chew on, anything that will bring me back to the work, nor that I can take away. And this is work I admire from a poet I’m willing to go places with. I want to see where O’Meara goes next. I would love to see him use that formal skill to dig in to something just a little deeper.

In contrast, Rhodes is fast and loose, his language ranging and not always as precise, but his mind flits across the page, and I’m refreshed to enter a world peopled with literary figures and plain talk: “Montreal is thesaurus for the lonely”. The Wireless Room has been compared to Robert Kroetsch's Stonehammer Poems in its prairie eroticism, and I can certainly see that, but there is not the sense of whole that Kroetsch seems to achieve so easily—or at least makes it look so easy, even in collections like Excerpts from the Real World (an early favourite of mine).

I like Rhodes best when he’s moving away from linear narrative (which is odd because he does that well, so perhaps this marks a preference of mine more than anything). In any case, here’s a sampling of what I mean. From “Meditation on the Electron”:
Oomph ffhooh sshoooh Heft,
gatherlings. Lift, current spuds.
Ride the up draft valencies,
volt vultures. Up there,
engine heads. Circle, ½ spins,
schizophrenic Heisenburgians, heavers
heaving decimal points like shot-
put. Commas of the dark, God’s
pause, whose claw of precision is
death…
(Wireless Room 46)
Wonderful language, wonderful line-breaks too, and I love that he was able to catch the echo of “paw” that I heard, and hear every time I swing through the line break of “God’s/pause”. At least I get it bounced back in “claw”.

The prose poems in Holding Pattern remind me a little of Anne Carson’s Short Talks, which I’ve posted on several times, but they are more prose than poem, and don’t quite rise to the perceptual, or ontological gymnastics that Carson’s do. In the poem about Emily Dickinson for example, I am not surprised to know that she was “fascinated by the moment before death”, but I’m interested to read about it, want to think about how this might have influenced her as a child. But I don’t get that. I don’t get anything more, rather we are shifted to a friend who is frightened in her sleep by a shadow on the ceiling and who lay there “silent, as sweat pooled in the hollows of her body” (Holding Pattern 39).

Still, Rhodes’ work is engaging, and like O’Meara, he’s a poet I’ll give my time to; and like O’Meara, I’m waiting to see what comes next.

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