Some Poems and Issues

  • Patrick Friesen
    Songen. Mother Tongue (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • George Bowering and George Stanley
    About Some End / West Broadway. New Star Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Michael Dennis
    Bad Engine. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Carl Peters

George Bowering asserts, “If we can experience another’s mind in our own, we know that love is possible” (“The Holy Life”). Robin Blaser writes, “a poem is a commotion among things—a search for form—because form is alive—and the poet is, thereby, a commotor not a commuter of meaning” (“Letter from a Student—Letter to a Student”). These three books delight in the dialogical performance of poetry. I say performance because that is the heart of the poetic act—not readily apparent because the performance resides in the mind of the performer doing the action. Poetry is where we have to conjoin act with performance, making a new performance, a new object, the way these poets do in their books.

Stuart Ross calls Michael Dennis a “populist poet”—and I find that off-putting. His reasoning is that you don’t need a PhD to read these poems. I don’t think a book needs an intro that tells readers it doesn’t need an intro. The catch-all term “populist” can refer to almost anything that contains an appeal to “the people,” but what is “the people?” There’s a long tradition of folk poetry, ballads, vernacular poetry, dialect poetry, and experimental poetry that reaches out to different forms of language, and these books fit those forms. These are fine poems in plain language and remind one of Allen Ginsberg in Cosmopolitan Greetings or John Clare. Plain language is the most deconstructive. What does Bad Engine deconstruct? These poems meet a tradition head-on, from an early ethereal fragment—“curved light”; I hear Emily Dickinson—to the last, the particular, “the red ants / who build giant cities / under the ground.” “i am somewhere between”—I said head-on—the poems move from “i” to “I” and that’s important. Bad Engine conjures up William Carlos Williams—“a poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” These poems have more in common with the films of Stan Brakhage, who made art for everyone other than Fellini. Most everyone. Poems that fragment and find other ends again and again. These poems are eye-myths.

Songen, with its italicized g on the cover (harking back to bpNichol’s gIFTS—the open universe of song) is shaped like a chapbook (that calls to mind a songbook), a term that has its roots in Old English—“barter, business, dealing.” Between the first poem, “Babbling,” and the rest is a building-up of feeling, one poem at a time, one perception after another—a composting; re-combinative—a poiesis. Time and space and their contemplation approaching love are the book’s materials that form into landscapes and words. “Mercy” as fluid as “water”—reaffirming my point about space and time and all the words. Images—“the distance we live in, the reach between.” It is a meditation on speechlessness—both a dumbfounding (“winter blindness”) and a “babbling”—common to babies and fools, but, with a little effort, poets also. The book is full of moments that encounter/counter consciousness, and in the sudden echo of sight coming into image an interval, a break, or a narrative is formed, developing like a Polaroid or not—“directions are shutting down.” Each poem begins and ends with a grammatical period although each sentence begins with lower-case. Shape matters, shifting. That formal experiment stretches time; it causes tensions in between. The book is “always a voice” “and no horizon line”—as the words echo and become other languages.

In Some End/West Broadway, writing is as natural a thing as breathing. Here the projective is extended to the dialogic. There are meditations on some poets (there is no eulogizing here). It is a discourse on poetry that any writer has—it is Bowering and Stanley’s intimations on mortality and that’s clear. “Dichten=condensare,” said Pound. It’s about reading, and reading as comparison, affinity, correspondences, metaphor, ambivalence, enigmatic underworld of meanings, and basically “attending” to reading. But Some End ends up on West Broadway; “West Broadway” leads to somewhere—some end—these are appropriate titles for projective-verse poets or, more accurately, poets going further—and they do. Gertrude Stein said that “remarks are not literature,” but theirs might be—fraternally.



This review “Some Poems and Issues” originally appeared in Rescaling CanLit: Global Readings Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 238 (2019): 121-122.

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