Restricted Visibilities

  • Michael Boughn
    Hermetic Divagations. Swimmers Group (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Jon Paul Fiorentino
    Leaving Mile End. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • François Turcot
    My Dinosaur. BookThug (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Kyle Kinaschuk

François Turcot, a Montreal-based poet who has produced four collections of poetry to date, published Mon dinosaure in 2013 with Éditions La Peuplade. In 2016, Erín Moure, the eminent poet and translator, took up the momentous task of tracing the resonances of Turcot’s lapidary and minimalist poetics in English for the first time. My Dinosaur is a making of mourning, a paleontological poiesis of missed experience, that materializes the absence of Claude Turcot, the father of François Turcot, by giving poetic form to the final days of his life. Nonetheless, the collection, like all elegies worthy of the name, is acutely aware of the operative infidelities that arise when grieving the singular name, since these poems, which traverse multiple voices and temporalities, also mourn loss in general. Accordingly, Turcot populates these poems with the textual “shadows,” as he calls them, of authors such as Bruno Schulz, Nicole Krauss, Blaise Cendrars, Francis Ponge, Katerina Iliopoulou, and Jacques Derrida: “just say that I’m gone down / the road / of the animal that therefore I am,” Turcot writes. In her essay that concludes the volume, Moure acknowledges how the act of translating Mon dinosaure was inflected by the loss of her own father. The sites of grief multiply.

My Dinosaur contains a range of poetic modes from prose to correspondence to narrative to lyric to fragment. In the hands of Turcot and Moure, the preceding poetic topographies become excavated imaginaries that constellate around the prehistoric figure of the dinosaur—an extended metaphor for the impossible, albeit necessary, task of memorializing what will have never been. “A dinosaur,” Turcot writes, is a “creature or man who exists by half, who offers a reading of a world without words.” Between world and word, then, Turcot tempers the elegiac as a testament to digging the remains of a world without words—a work of mourning that emerges from the rewriting of A Book of Hours, which Moure characterizes as “a meditative notebook purportedly lost by the father then rewritten by the son.” These poems, hence, are to be missed again and again, and this is precisely why Turcot and Moure’s collaboration is such a compelling and remarkable project—one that is as demanding as it is rare.

It is certainly not fanciful to write of My Dinosaur and Michael Boughn’s Hermetic Divagations in the same breath, as both poetic projects are experimental in form as well as delightfully solemn in scope. Also, both texts stage an immanent encounter that entangles world and word. Boughn inventively attends to H. D.’s Hermetic Definition by taking her late work as the volume’s condition of formal possibility. In other words, Boughn formally mirrors the exact number of lines and stanzas that occur in H. D.’s poems to generate elegant palimpsests that radically reconfigure poetic relationalities. The volume, Boughn notes, “constitutes a material connection that opens a relationship that is neither homage nor conversation nor explication nor history, but is all those things and more—a kind of grateful thinking brought to attention through her words.” It is Boughn’s privileging of form, in the preceding constraint, that allows the work to foreground the materiality of poetic relations. Hermetic Divagations becomes an occasion for a profound and engaged poetic experimentation that does not lapse into a conceptualism that calcifies the immanent registers of formal and linguistic innovation.

Boughn’s poems, which “wind in and out of signs / of hidden entrances, restricted visibility,” are indeed hermetic, and this is their charm. He sustains this double gesture of “hidden entrance” and “restricted visibility” across all three parts of the volume through enjambed lines that give themselves over to a tracing of H. D. while also proffering strings of obscured images, which defy easy entrance: “savage rose gracing constant / doom, un prêtre mis en / pièces, battered kitchen.” Here, Boughn interpolates Saint-John Perse’s image of a priest in pieces to interrupt a line that is already shattered, and the dissonances proliferate, yet there is a hidden entrance, a restricted visibility, that persists in these lines, locating “grace” in “constant doom.” Hermetic Divagations, perhaps, provides the best dictum for its own poetic practice: “each word lit with death glow.” The foregoing line perfectly apprehends the splendour of these poems as they gratefully move language to its limits. Such is Boughn’s dizzying undertaking in this highly innovative new volume of poetry that affirms both “dung and myrrh” while productively dwelling within the formal vestiges of H. D.

Leaving Mile End is Jon Paul Fiorentino’s seventh collection of poetry and his tenth book. While Fiorentino’s poetics are very much embedded in the cultural life of Montreal, the collection self-consciously appropriates the language of the Internet to dramatize digital phenomena from “doxxing” to “click bait” to “unfriending” to “Uber reviews.” For example, “Click Bait” is composed entirely of mock titles such as “This 12-Year-Old Girl Just Died. Then a Puppy Came Along” and “A Couple Beautifully Says Goodbye to Their Deceased Dog. Step Inside . . . Right Meow.” Similarly, “The Unfriending” adopts the egotistical persona of someone who is absorbed in their “online” reputation. The poem begins with the following threat: “You did a real stupid thing there for your career when you unfriended me.” The speaker continues: “I can end you.” In “The Cocks of 50 Shades of Grey,” Fiorentino puns upon the verb “cock” for thirty-four lines: “I giggle, and he cocks his head to one side.” Fiorentino, moreover, goes so far as to pen reviews of his own book: “What the hell? This is the worst poetry I have ever read. I could actually feel myself getting more stupid.” Alexia, an imagined reviewer, observes, “lol. ‘poetry.’”



This review “Restricted Visibilities” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 31 Oct. 2018. Web.

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