- Stephen Brockwell (Author)
Cometology. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Bruce Whiteman (Author)
The Invisible World Is In Decline, Book V. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Stephen Cain (Author)
Torontology. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tim Conley
There’s an undeniable new strain of the prophetic emerging in Canadian poetry. In part it is a reaction to the aggravating inward spiral of postmodern confessionalism: there is a need for a public, even popular poetics to address the sensory bombardment an allegedly postliterate world experiences. Our stories and autobiographies seem so conditional now that we live, however uncomfortably, in the future.
Stephen Brockwell watches the skies. For him the future arrives in paths and patterns, perhaps fleetingly discerned through the telescope as well as in the more immediate "rivulets of water" of whose greater river of memory we are part. InCometology, he traces the gazes of Osceola, Kepler, Elizabeth I, and Herod, and locates comets as their mutual object. Although he writes of a heavenly body "I will not / catalogue her beauty," Brockwell does in fact offer an index of naturalist’s observations, dreams, and mathematical propositions. For the apocalyptic reader there is star-fixed cultism of a different sort: Brockwell illuminates an unholy cinematic trinity in Stanley Kubrick, Stan Brakhage, and James Bond. Cultural stars are as ably arranged in new constellations here as human forms are assembled, in verse and accompanying illustration, as a tetrahedron, helicoid, or klein bottle in "Constructive Geometry":
Your neck enters your side: a sleeping swan, a lover alone in a large bed.
You will never be filled with water.
If the ambivalence seems affected, the attempt may be crucial. Brockwell’s phenomenology is not a disinterested affair, for he admits, "I fail to watch without reverence." The comets do not predict themselves, we must pose our own questions to them.
Stephen Cain is the mixmaster and barstool prophet. Torontology, his second book, is an urban sound studio in which the reels replay, at new speeds and in new directions, the catchwords, pieties, notable quotables of modern verse. Reading Cain is perversely like listening to recordings played in reverse, not to discover that Paul is dead but that something else is alive:
I have my books & my pornography to protect me. I have yielded in my amour. I am a crock, I am a lying man. All the holy peepholes, why do they all hum glum? I am a lonely fainter, I give in a pox of taint. Joys, joys, joys of an addict.
Although his affinities for Gertrude Stein and T. S. Eliot, proclaimed in his previous book dyslexicon (1998), are yet strong and compete with his fondness for the simple lyric, Cain avoids both an easy nostalgia for modernism and a cloying, self-aware pop savvy by retaining focus on the cultural background noise. "Psychles" is a film- based autobiography, a series of paronoma-sia-rich responses to ten films, arranged anadiplotically: the last word of each line is the first of the next. Cain’s formalism is cannibalistic but his desperation is enjoy ably irreverent.
Besides being the veteran of this grouping, Bruce Whiteman is the oldest kind of prophet: the inward seer confuting the wilderness. Comparable to (though I think less accomplished than) Christopher Dewdney’s ongoing The Natural History of Southwestern Ontario, Whiteman’s The Invisible World is in Decline is a chronicle of sensory experience that began in 1984 with the aggressive statement, "The world is an invasion." This fifth volume concerns the body and solitude, though unlike its predecessors it seems more of a loose collection than a unified book or poetic argument. In fact, the invisible world is not much in evidence except in "Polyphonic Windows":
The beautiful counterpoint of what is out the window. A landscape of desire where people and the geography in which they move make a perfect scene of adoration. The window, thrown up to give air, makes possible a body fugue. Everything in sight depends on it.
While the first sentence is admirable in its deceptive simplicity—the colloquial possibilities of "what is out the window" make me think of Wittgenstein and what may be taken to be the case—the epigrams which follow use tired tropes (the "landscape of desire" has been well-tilled by now). Too often are the expressions of the erotic ("The sheer comic gymnastics of sex are part of its lovely conspiracy") distressingly banal. The book ends with the line "love alone has no season"; but that, by way of forecast, isn’t very practical advice.
- ]Thought ]Barefoot by Chris Jennings
Books reviewed: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson and Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) by Anne Carson
- Larger Than Seeing by Diane Stiles
Books reviewed: The Hidden Room: Collected Poems by P. K. Page
- History and Writing in Indonesia by Tineke Hellwig
Books reviewed: Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future, History as Prophecy in Colonial Java by Nancy K. Florida and Telling Lives, Telling History. Autobiography and Historical Imagination in Modern Indonesia by Susan Rodgers
- "I'll Teach You Cree" by Nicholas Bradley
Books reviewed: Gabriel's Beach by Neil McLeod, Little Hunger by Phillip Kevin Paul, Fifth World Drum by Anna Mraie Sewell, and Kipocihkân by Gregory Scofield
- Rambunctions by Laurie Ricou
Books reviewed: Cavatinas for Long Nights by Jim Christy, Water Stair by John Pass, There are Many Ways: Poems New and Selected by Peter Trower, and Sidewalks & Sidehills by Peter Trower
MLA: Conley, Tim. Soothsaid Verse. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #178 (Autumn 2003), Archives and History. (pg. 104 - 105)
***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.