- Natalie Simpson (Author)
accrete or crumble. LINEbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Marita Dachsel (Author)
All Things Said & Done. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Reg Johanson (Author)
Courage, My Love. LINEbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Roger Farr (Author)
Surplus. LINEbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tim Conley
In their recent appeals for massive government loans and bailouts, banks and corporate industries have blamed their declining fortunes on "the economic crisis," as though they themselves were not only blameless but somehow outside of or apart from the economy per se, while their public justifications for these appeals have tended to underline how inextricable their well-being is from that of the economy at large. That is, they have been (or have chosen to be) blind to the fact that they themselves are the crisis.
Let the minutes of this board review acknowledge receipt of prior warnings from the Kootenay School of Economics (KSE) and its satellite think-tanks, however unattended such warnings have hitherto been by financial planners. Three slight volumes from the new imprint LINEbooks question, each in its own way, the formulation of exchange values (and the insidious disintegration of use value). Roger Farr’s report Surplus looks askance at the so-called global market’s tendencies
To subsequently devalue and export, especially
In respect to common property, to break down
Into subjects, adjuncts and precarious antecedents
As in " a climate of general cooperation," or
"Network-centric security for Canada-US supply chains"
Almost any of the phrases used here could be strung in quotation marks ("in respect to"; "subjects"; and so on), tagged with prices. The signifiers are offering little return for our investments, or too much. Surplus (and especially its jigsaw conclusion, "Secure Channels") reads like a post-9/11 stock report in buzzwords. It offers site-specific research from the Ontario mines that provided the uranium needed for Japanese devastation as well as from the malls and Safeway stores where "capital’s symptoms pose as capital’s critiques." Having "discarded" thirteen Latin tags as possible epigraphs, Farr demonstrates both brand consciousness and paradox by choosing William Blake: "Enough! Or Too Much."
If the cutting up of one’s own credit cards can be a poetic act, Reg Johanson is a poet in extremis: "nobody appreciates a class traitor any more." Whatever the implications of its title, Courage, My Love is a waspish catalogue of best-laid plans ("I want to join al-Qaeda, / to change it from within"), miseducation ("I had to learn to hate / the structure that made me"), and mock-nationalism ("Nothing comes between me and my CBC"). Here are lists and variations. Johanson, or someone who has stolen his identity, lists payday expenditures and concerts attended 1979-2001 (everything from Loverboy and Trooper to Blue Rodeo and Billy Bragg) and glares with a grim, experienced eye at arts funding, somewhat yellowed pop lyrics, Jean Chrétien’s remembrances of his eminently, deservedly forgettable efforts in the Ministry of Indian Affairs-all incommodious commodities, declining values not named as such. This is a book of bathos:
Jane Rang began a new business called Jane’s Reality. "People are starving"
coils around her throat transmitting the instrumental techniques of the
culture, in particular its language, with its systems of meaning and logic
and ways of categorizing experiences, yet she can still say "I love this job.
It gives you a combination of practical skills and a strong theoretical
Jane can say that, but does she really mean it? A road not taken (Johanson’s book isn’t ultimately as polyvocal as it seems).
Just as there are jokes in The Wall Street Journal for the registered accountant, there are laughs in Farr and Johanson, but in both cases it must be said that the sensibility for them is little acquired, let alone adjusted or especially challenged, in the process of reading, but rather it just seems to come with the job. Something different occurs to the reader of Natalie Simpson’s Accrete or Crumble, which is a kind of instruction guide turned inside out. "The noun is a creature of fortitude," Simpson avows. "Its lakes breathe darkly. and whole. lark. precipice, meal, dread. hacking, to." Sure enough, some investors are going to balk, if not panic, at such statements. Simpson’s coda, "Simple Matter," quotes Virginia Woolf, who says that the all-important attainment of rhythm prevents one from using "the wrong words." In search of "the aesthetic pulse," Simpson’s book treads a course occasionally parallel to Stein’s How to Write. So that we might above all hear
how trees root soil out. how the leaves of oak trees are distinction.
when squarely falls on the shoulders of massive armies overtake.
the middle falls through.
that this is a narrative. scrape of boot on concrete, squeal of heel
Phonemes and morphemes are like stocks, like biosystems: they accrete or crumble. Simpson’s structures are puzzlingly economical, the work of production rather than product of unacknowledged work.
And-amid this turmoil-whither the nervous middle class? Let them, o let them eat snacking cake. With strange affection Marita Dachsel’s All Things Said & Done (from Caitlin Press) screens a slide-show of the customary preoccupations: "orthodontist-approved teeth," gardening ("when he’d rather / be watching Antiques Roadshow"), sex on road trips (where one seems the excuse for the other), wondering at the agelessness of flight attendants, mid-life self-surveys at the barbecue. "Mrs. Torrance" (the mousy wife played by mousy Shelley Duvall in The Shining) is a valediction sprung from the pages of Good Housekeeping:
You were doomed from the beginning.
Your son, at five, is smarter than you.
Pink and gold is an awful combination.
Your husband, Mrs. Torrance, your husband
Has anger-management issues, and surely
You are aware that temperance
isn’t working well for him:
he will sell his soul for a drink.
Perhaps the Dan Quayle who chastised Murphy Brown was a satirist; perhaps not. Either way, wagging one’s finger means not having to get up from the couch, and Dachsel’s poems live between the couch and the motel bed. Sometimes comes the wish "to drive, / drive away, / just go"; the persistent strain of small-town escapism punctuated by sighs of defeat and "unfortunate farts."
Perhaps by definition poetry is aware of itself as a crisis (of meaning, of language, of making), or perhaps it simply ought to be; but even this is not enough, or too much, to ask.
- Earth Enough and Time by Kevin McNeilly
Books reviewed: Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation by Eric Ormsby and Planet Earth: Poems Selected and New by P. K. Page
- L'épopée intime by Vincent Charles Lambert
Books reviewed: Un autre soleil by Joël Des Rosiers and Patricia Léry and Caïques by Joël Des Rosiers
- The Language Around You by Adam Dickinson
Books reviewed: Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation by Tim Bowling, The Matrix Interviews: Moosehead Anthology #9 by R. E. N. Allen and Angela Carr, and Vis à Vis: Fieldnotes on Poetry & Wilderness by Don McKay
- Into & Beyond Bodies by Sally Chivers
Books reviewed: Into the Fold by Jacqueline Turner, Scissor, Paper, Woman by Marianne Bluger, and Into the Peculiar Dark by Anne F. Walker
- Verse in the Bush by Warren Stevenson
Books reviewed: Jean Baptiste: A Poetic Olio, in II Cantos by Levi Adams and Tracy Ware and Poetry by John Strachan by Wanda Campbell and John Strachan
MLA: Conley, Tim. Deficit Disorders. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 146 - 148)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.