Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pleasurable Moments in Poetry

Tydsdal, Swift, Solie
Daniel Scott Tysdal, Predicting The Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method, Coteau, 2006

So few books take the risk of breaking out of predictable poetic form--on the level of the book I mean, as much as the poem inside. Tysdal's book looks more like a gallery catalog than poetry book. The last book that I recall successfully challenging the constraint of the bookshelf was Rachel Zolf's Masque (and Robert Majzel's Akoporo's Sleuth). Tysdal's poems are dry, humorous, concise. Post prairie, in Jon Paul Fiorentino's terms, and having fun with it, as above, the poem changes shape when folded. There are other, more conventional kinds of fun too:
According to most popular legends
the prairie poet is the one for whom
the universe is broken into two:
the half that is ground the way direst is ground
in the cerise of a blistered popping;
and the other half that is more like air,
neither drawn in nor exhaled, but grasped at;
and the answer to the question "Many
or One?" is most definitely many
plus one..."

From "What Prairie Poets Do and How They Watch The Sky"
Other poems resemble a frenetic newspaper page complete with contrasting quotes--George Bush and Guy Debord, varying fonts, advertising jingles, logos. Not easily replicated in a blog post. Others march across in columns, and everywhere there is a sense of revealing the aural and etymological echoes in language, intended and unintended.
they are cumming

and they are going
to cum

the woman sits

on her folded



from "Faces of Bukkake 6"
The poems tickle, what can I say? And I like the images, the suggestiveness, the playfulness.

Todd Swift, Seaway: New and Selected Poems, Salmon Poetry, 2008
Communal Garden

May takes hold of summer's handlebars and wobbles on.

I love a one line poem. Twitter or no there is something satisfying about nailing an idea in so few words. Haiku's are good, and sometimes the one-line prose poem is a haiku too. Former Montrealer Todd Swift is one of a handful of Canadian authors to have the privilege of non-Canadian publication, and even fewer contemporary poets are blessed with selecteds. Why then has no one reviewed this book in Canada? This is certainly a fine accomplishment.

Karen Solie, Pigeon, Anansi 2009
(in process)
My favourite piece in Solie's new collection is actually prose. "Archive" gives us the history of a place, and a person through the taking and describing of a photograph. Calling to mind Walter Benjamin, as she has done in other poems, the archive builds horizontally--the moment of entry like a pinhole camera spreading backwards through the poem--is it a poem? It's very evocative, and for this poet in any case, in these unbound lines the poet's wit has room to move and build more associatively than the more conventional lyric poems. Is it the absence of metaphor that pleases? Is it the ambling thoughts? The thinking that permeates even as the poem is looking out?

The contemporary Canadian lyric poem can seem corseted--to great effect as we see with Joe Denham, Ken Babstock, Margaret Christakos and Dennis Lee--but not always. There are so many poems that seem artificially bound by formal concerns (and this is by no means limited to lyric poetry, all poems can suffer his). Admittedly this is an aspect of poetry this reader struggles with. So seeing Solie break out here is refreshing, and exciting. We have desciription: the "cable channel that seasonally devotes itself to a looped shot of burning logs, the possiblity that a "tiny smudge" is a bohemian waxwing in flight. Traces of narrative: "It's during this week that a university student kills herself by jumping off the bridge," "What is seen is true, as seen, though may be interpreted falsely..." Wonderfully strange and precise images and movements. The photographer comes and goes, the camera in her pocket, while "atoms move at an infinite speed" and "fresh treated water" pumped from the city becomes the world's first "man-made waterfall, 7.3 metres higher than Niagra Falls." What remains? What is seen? What is under, around, inside, informing and shaping what is seen? What is recorded? The expansive nature of this writing is exciting. What is it about prose that allows poets to leap? Like a great cape shot through with textures and holes, the universe of the poet is unveiled. It is rangier, made of varieties of surfaces and reflections. It is a bit wild. And I like it.


Sheryda said...

I agree wholeheartedly about "Archive," find the poem central to the book's ongoing arguement, particularly this:

"What is seen is true, as seen, though may be interpreted falsely. The photographer's read that the mind fills in dimensions of a viewed object based on the experience of objects of its kind. That, often, we believe in things we see the same way we believe in things we don't. She looks out over the valley, wondering if it makes any difference."

Lemon Hound said...

Yes, that's a great quote, and you're probably right that it gets at the central theme, perhaps of Solie's body of work as much as this collection.

Care to do a reading of another poem from the book? I would love to see it, post it.

Sheryda said...

I would love to! I'll get back to you in the next couple of days.

mark wallace said...

I continue to enjoy these thoughtful posts.

Say, LH, do you want to trade our recent books? If you can't or don't want to, I understand, but if you do, drop me an e-mail at

And thanks for this blog--one of my favorites.

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for the comment, Mark, and the feeling is mutual.

Will back channel.