- Don Kerr (Author)
My Own Places: Poems on John Constable. University of Calgary Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Daniel Scott Tysdal (Author)
Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method. Coteau Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tim Conley
Says the dealer to the prospective buyer:
It’s a wonderful thing, art is,
you puts nature in a box like
and takes it indoors
and you looks at it over a nice cup of tea.
Yes indeed, squire. And another thing: poetry, rather wonderful in its way (if, like the “paintins” of John Constable, it is “done the proper way”). A book of poetry about paintings, you say? Don Kerr puts Constable in a book; flattens him like. Start scalding the kettle.
My Own Places evokes the life and times of the painter more than it does the paintings themselves. Kerr’s book acts as a catalogue for an imaginary show: this form accounts for the inclusion of full colour reproductions, which might otherwise seem somewhat redundantly decorative. For Kerr, “the art of seeing nature” the way that Constable painted it, and perhaps too the art of looking at Constable seem to be the same phenomenon. “You can observe how a tree is built”: there’s intelligent design for you.
Research is flourished in the quotations from eight volumes of correspondence as well as from George Field and John Ruskin, the curator’s insistence on dates everywhere, and the oft-sounded pedagogical tone. Kerr is sometimes deft at converting the raw material of these researches into verse. “And as for yellow,” the poem “Chromatics” splendidly begins:
the contrasting colours of yellow
are a purple inclining to blue
when the yellow inclines to orange
and a purple inclining to red
when the yellow inclines to green,
and so on, all of which makes a nice lack of sense because it is so technically precise and measured. Likewise the trajectories of some of the painter’s trips possess an enchanting rhythm and specificity, and Kerr cheerily pilfers John Kirby’s 1735 guide The Suffolk Travller to give directions from Ipswich to Stratford: “From the Market Cross passing through St. Matthew’s Street / over Hanford Bridge, at 6½ furlongs, / avoid the right turning at Hadleigh.” With such processes Kerr comes closer to capturing (in relief) the consciousness of his fellow regionalist than he does with description.
The romanticization of Constable, though, can become pretty bland and even silly, particularly when the methods are second-hand. Kerr’s summoning of Johnny Cash to tell of Constable’s walks (“I’ve been everywhere man / and walked but a mile or two”) seems calculated to make the reader wince in just the way students do when a professor inappropriately stoops to make a too-popular reference. When the book ends, after ringing down a contrast between what astounding prices Constable’s work now fetches with how little the painter himself got for them, with a thudding Wordsworth allusion—“Constable, thou shouldst be living at this hour”—the reader is left to wonder what good the painter’s resurrection would do anybody.
If poetry about paintings of nature seems like mediation double-jeopardy, Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method seems predicated on the notion that nature is a commercial fiction. Kerr’s Constable “could taste the weather / taste the clouds”; Daniel Scott Tysdal presents clouds as “so many hands amid hands / that have no idea how to assemble / or associate with fingers.” A cloud is never just a cloud, the chain of signification never ends, and why oh why “do we always ostracize with meaning?”
Ostracism was, strange to say, originally a democratic process—the word’s etymology speaks of a method by which citizens could banish a dissident or troublemaker—but Tysdal has little truck with originals. Walter Benjamin observed that in the age of mechanical reproduction (how quaint “mechanical” must sound to twenty-first-century ears), the “aura” of the original is always receding. That this insight provokes Tysdal to accelerate in the reverse direction puts me in mind of the Monty Python skit in which a character who has never before heard the cliché “no time to lose” takes considerable time trying to understand its usage. The order of the day, the title’s promised “potentially dangerous method,” is appropriation, effacement, reconfiguration, repeat—and any denigration of a so-called “original” is just collateral damage.
Ersatzification is inevitable, so here’s to it! A “trailerization” of Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” shouts from the rooftops that the poem relies on the implications of juxtaposition, just as movie trailers do. Canadian culture is just a knock-off of American products, as an ode to Leonard Cohen that parrots the anaphoric stand-up manner and structure of Ginsberg’s “America” suggests. But the events of 9/11 cannot be understood at face value, either:
I.II Analogy is to this succession of pictures what ruins are to the lives within which the footage is rapt and extinguished.
I.I (along with singular repeated sounds.
I (along with repeated sounds resounding)).
0.0 What I mean is:
0 “it’s like a movie”
That’s Jean Baudrillard heard playing bongos in the back there (uncredited).
Tysdal’s book has the pleasing shape of a catalogue but structurally smacks of one of those dead-end marketplace “squatter” sites encountered at a wrong turn on the web, offering catch-all links in categories (games, dating, cell phones, horoscopes, real estate, movies). Among the commodities in Predicting are the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Paris Hilton, and Archie Andrews, carefully balanced by assuredly high-brow brands such as Benjamin, Rilke, and Joyce. Also porn: “Faces of Bukkake 6” reports how
her face is without
since jargon in such cases
is inevitable (requiring a certain
There’s that potentially dangerous method again: poetry isn’t just masturbation, but impersonal degradation of the original face, and pornography is just parody and translation “gone wild.”
More irritating, even, than the television remote control in the hand of some other impulsive person is the mouse in the hand of some other impulsive person. Simply, it is hard to enjoy someone else’s websurfing, and rather than giving its reader credit, Predicting only shows interest in the reader’s cultural credit rating. Have I been ostracized with meaning? Or just voted off the island?
- Take and Read by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: Parable Beach by Paddy McCallum, Flat Side by Monty Reid, The Science of Nothing by Marty Gervais, and The Hornbooks of Rita K by Robert Kroetsch
- Breathing Lessons by Andre Furlani
Books reviewed: declining america by Rob Budde, Pause for Breath by Sarah Robyn, and Swim Class and Other Poems by George Whipple
- Of Selves and Others by Carole Turner
Books reviewed: Wild Mouse by Chris Chambers and Derek McCormack, Somewhere Running by Nathalie Stephens, Hypothesis by John Barton, and ashes are bone and dust by Jill Battson
- Loving and Leaving by Ian Rae
Books reviewed: Dove Legend by Richard Outram, The Lover's Progress by David Solway, and Leaving Holds Me Here: Selected Poems by Glen Sorestad
- Poésie francophone by René Brisebois
Books reviewed: Les Silences immoblies by Christian Violy, Bleu sur Blanc by Marguerite Andersen, and dieu sait quoi by Pierre Ouellet
MLA: Conley, Tim. Seeing Reproductions. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 144 - 146)
***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.