Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Jakub Stachurski: Almost Random: A Reading of Phil Hall’s White Porcupine

Phil Hall’s lyricism in White Porcupine establishes and shares with the reader an individual ideologue, a semantic and syntactical coll[i][u]sion of poetic structure and tenuous diction exhibiting the immediacy of an impulse which propels the work. Much incongruity is painted into the white space of this long poem (silence, which says as much and as little as Hello) the writing on occasion spiraling, splitting at the level of sentence and of sense, falling away from linearity into the fictive aside native to all recollection, the wink of the unconscious in the skewed detail recalled of some evening, sliding away from what could have been prescribed or sewn. Not tangential for this is essential, though the appearance, of what could be termed a sporadic diversion in the stream, a departure of tense, what only appears as digression, what in Indian literature would be termed “upside down language,” (see The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense) nonsensical in its attempt to gain sense, keeping the poems cognitively accountable—the poem as thought unit (sans unity). A naturalized disruption of a cognitive chain as opposed to a single uninterrupted continuum of thought, Woolf’s modernist dictum that “the mind receives a myriad impressions--trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently— ”In Hall’s suite of poems the accent falls on a hermetic urban and rural Canadian experience,  on recollecting childhood hardships and then occasionally the accent falls onto the white porcupine, creature mythopoesis, a snowy scene and a mind that conjures a street  decades or minutes removed when there is certainly the accent of something trivial in the recollection.
    My father and I are driving at night into a great white porcupine that would be just deep weather if we went any slower
    speed changes a storm to quills that are broken passing lines in sharp bouquet
    we’d say we want to pull over & stop & get out & go our separate ways
    because we hate each other – but really we love the porcupine more

There is logic, similitude, and theme as much as there is misjudged distance, isolation, and uncertainty. (There is fantasy as an appendage of isolation and uncertainty.) There are the blurred squiggly lines of sometimes farsighted and sometimes nearsighted and occasionally clear glimpses. There is the trivial overheard misquote.

Within the domestic tableau, a purported semantic uniformity of the quotidian archive, an attitude of lyrical certainty, particularly one set in the past tense is, at best, illusory, and sometimes a pretense of capitalist and conservative values, an allegiance to the fallacy of nuclear family mores and antithetical to the attempt, since Modernism, for accountability for the richness of the folly of our thinking—which is really the commonplace, the way it’s always been done, with mistakes.

In recalling a domestic scene, an offhanded comment made by a parent elicits a small laugh which leads to a nursery rhyme of substance abuse to another room where a birthday party is taking place but years ago a collar bone was fractured with the smell of pizza. Discontinuity of the  quotidian.  Discontinuity is character and the flaws that precede it, and our inability to really tell of, and to tell.

     the forged nail through the bare foot of a rubber boot
     or the log homestead that turns into a pig pen?

Hall writes verse that is clear, incisive and compressed when need be, but knows when to use the soft focus, the anti-flourish, the head-scratching palette cleanser, the insightful aside. There is humility and courage in not always being overtly articulate, or risking something in making it new. Description, narrative, the distance between subject and object, embodiment and synesthesia, geographical grounding, are contracts between the author and the reader, often more generative when the terms are carefully broken and toyed with, much like the metrical contract set out at the beginning of a metered poem. Hall maintains narrative authority while playfully and thoughtfully pulling the reader aside, changing course, making rhymes, undoing a small stitch, tearing the tapestry of a song of often hoarse, sometimes trivial humming. Melodious with unstrung guitar, muddled by white noise, whispering small truths.

Jakub Stachurski has lived in a city, as well as in a town. His poetry has been published, rest assured, but not that often. He has a degree in biology from the Discovery channel.

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