- Paul Vermeersch (Author)
Burn. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- David Solway (Author)
Chess Pieces. McGill-Queen's University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michael Redhill (Author)
Light-crossing. House of Anansi Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Darren Werschler-Henry (Author)
The Tapeworm Foundry. House of Anansi Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Karl Jirgens
These four books all feature meditations that eventually loop back on themselves, their conditions of being, the state of the art, and the site of writing itself. Their tones may range from ecstatic to mannered, but they all consider the situation of the self as it confronts and articulates a formidable environment. Unlike more conventional lyric poets, these authors have chosen to innovate through their stylistics or choice of subject, and in different ways have generated open texts.
Darren Werschler-Henry, who also serves as an editor with Coach House Books, has crafted The Tapeworm Foundry, an epic slice beginning at a full gallop in médias res and charging through some fifty pages to an open-ended sentence that loops back to its beginning. Werschler-Henry has shaped an endless loop of sentence fragments, each ostensibly a book concept or proposal aimed at an unspecified audience and/or publisher. This heterogeneous, self-reflexive and four-dimensional diatribe offers a timely treatment of culture and/or politics and/or commercialism and/or history. Werschler-Henry links clausal conjectures, and stream-of-consciousness cerebral ejaculations with the conjunction "andor" and thus, establishes a sense of openness and provisionally (will it be "and" or will it be "or"?), and provides a pattern with breath-pauses that turn at a dizzying pace (ideally suited for public readings). This work should be heard live but has an energetic presence on the page as well. Like a tapeworm, each "segment" of this long word-worm has a life of its own, and gives meditative pause, but can also be read in the longer looping context of this disjunctive poetic narrative on literature, as a kind of ambivalent parasite slowly working its way through the cultural detritus blocking the intestines of a preposterous society constipated with its own pretensions. The homages to great writers, meta-poetic and acerbic comments on publishing and writing that are embedded here with eclectic comments on electron microscopes, divorce lawyers, intaglio bowling balls, and red-herrings make for an engaging audience/author repast.
Paul Vermeersch’s Burn is his debut. This collection offers poems under three headings, "the days dogs die," "days without hearing a sound," and "those days you could still speak my name" all lightly seasoned with a (sur)real barbecue marinade, and splashed with linguistic sauciness: "Once, I wore Lake Huron for a cape. / A chunk of driftwood was a ship / I could capsize with a flick / of my wrist and watch / my enemies drowning inside." These meditations also carve to the bone at times, expose the "burn" of radiant ecstasy or dull pounding of depression. Fishing, drug abuse, stranded whale pods and magical love encounters on subways permit introspective observations on passion and ruin, anxiety and glory. This is the language of the open heart, the language of the dirty boulevard. Avoiding the self-indulgence and acrimony that one often finds in emerging poets, Vermeersch transcends time and self through luminous turns of language and singular states of mind.
David Solway’s Chess Pieces moves into a deeper mind-set. Like Duchamp who gave up art for chess, Solway sees the ever-shifting contingencies of the chessboard as a poetic performance. The mind dancing over the board, the interactive pieces, the emerging patterns of the game, the tensions between opposing forces provide a framework for Solway’s investigations. I found his "Wittgenstein at Chess" illuminating: the conditions of the "game", whether it is language or chess, "are only the conditions / of the game we happen to be playing." In this book, the "game" is not always what it seems. Solway links a mastery of language with a command of chess strategies. His allegorical perceptions of the novel as endgame, the short story as the mid-battle, and the epic as opening move, span the history of western literature, civilization and philosophy. This collection, published as part of the Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series (edited by Nathalie Cook and Joan Harcourt), revels in erudite wit, refined allusions and complex syntax that modestly recognizes its own artifice, its own potential displacement by alternate pursuits of squash, sailing or the brokerage. But it also celebrates the marvelous, simple complexities of printed word and waiting chess-piece: "Only abstract black and spectral white / hovering in airs of shadow and light."
Light-crossing is the latest in a steadily growing number of books of poetry by Michael Redhill. Also a dramatist and a writer of fiction, Redhill is plugged into the deeper history of the land, the histories of First Nations peoples, movements of the early settlers, as well as the first lines of transportation and communication that underlie the Toronto region. Redhill intermixes body and landscape, topography and mindscape. He simultaneously implodes and explodes events; a sudden attack by yellow-jackets nearly takes the life of a mother, the focus shrinks down to the condition of the comatose body, leaps through time to a child’s first recognition of the independent movements of birds, and closes with the waxy scent of birthday candles and an implicit awareness of the inexorable cycle of life and death. There is a sense of immanence in Redhill’s poetry, not the great sublime, say, of Kant, but a less formal, more present perception that lifts Pennsylvania beer, lovers’ contradictions and ancient burial grounds, and carries them aloft in the winds of remembrance as they are subtly altered by selective memory and a metamorphic sense of self: "Tomorrow / you will remember something / that never happened." Redhill has an eye and ear for ephemera (shifting dust, winter sunlight, flights of wrens) as markers of the translucent pages of time. Draw nearer and listen: just below the surface, you can hear the dead speaking.
- Interpreting Poetry by Christine Stewart
Books reviewed: Poetic Epistemologies: Gender and Knowing in Women's Language-Oriented Writing by Megan Simpson and ABC of reading TRG by Peter Jaeger
- Trans Layton by Kevin McNeilly
Books reviewed: Layton, l'essentiel: Anthologie portative d'Irving Layton by Michel Albert and Irving Layton
- Mapping and Way-making by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: Fierce Departures: The Poetry of Dionne Brand by Dionne Brand and Leslie Sanders, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke by Jon Paul Fiorentino, and Lousy Explorers by Laisha Rosnau
- Discursive Adaptations by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: Reaching for the Clear: The Poetry of Rhys Savarin by David Solway, Something Blue and Flying Upwards: New and Selected Poems by Roger Nash, and A Dirge for My Daughter: Poems by Frederick Philip Grove and Klaus Martens
- Voicing Constraint by Ian Rae
Books reviewed: My Darling Nellie Grey by George Bowering
MLA: Jirgens, Karl. Open Meditations. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #176 (Spring 2003), Anne Carson. (pg. 195 - 196)
***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.