- Clint Burnham (Author)
Airborne Photo. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- George Bowering (Author)
Blonds on Bikes. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tamas Dobozy
On the surface, George Bowering and Clint Burnham may have only a geographical reference in common: both live in Vancouver. And I was hard pressed to come up with a means of bringing them together when, quite suddenly, the missing reference points began to emerge from the reading, when the negatives (or, better, negations) of the two texts began to suggest a means by which to navigate the route between them.
Burnham’s title, Airborne Photo, then, proves apt for a work that is very much concerned with an underclass evanescence, with the lives and events that are denied their contributing role in history. Here are pictures that breeze past too quickly for us to get anything other than momentary impressions—impressions that, for the most part, quickly join the other sensory data filed under "cognitive trash" at the end of the day. Burnham traffics in the aesthetics of disposability. Here, traits fail to accumulate into character in stories so short and rapid-fire they seem to have ended before they’ve begun; progressing through the collection is like turning the laminated pages of an anatomy text, only to find at the end, with the dropping of the last sheet, that instead of the completed human— from skeleton to skin—we have only a stack of transparencies so perfectly clear there isn’t even a sense of depth.
And so Burnham presents his anatomy of social disenfranchisement: "Yeah really. You know Candace, I was telling Maria about there was this guy at work, and he’s like this total asshole, and he’s going on about stuff and just a real jerk." The imprecision with which Burnham’s characters speak turns uncertainty, narcotic haze, and a sense of being so far out on the margins that all sense of a centre has disappeared, into a poetry of vagueness. At other times, Burnham is deadly accurate and funny: "She was a babe, total fox, wore these cunt-cutters, Big Blue or US Tops, shaped jeans with no back pockets that hugged her labia like a swollen capital W." If characters can’t quite zero in on why they’re bothered—by work, by parents, by the mixed signals of life on the underside—they’re always adept at locating the labia, the clitoris, the asshole, and, when release through sex isn’t enough (and it never is), in finding minor refuge in the referents of commodity culture: the name brands that haunt the text like spectres of a lost, definite language. Bowering, conversely, seems to have so much available to him that the collection reads like the musings of a poet bereft. In the long poem that provides the collection its title, he writes:
I have beaten my dreams I’m lending form to them they don’t even know what I mean
It is the word "they," so flawlessly decen-tred, that suggests Bowering might be one of Burnham’s characters (that is, if Burnham’s characters ever thought of writing poetry). Does "they" refer to the "dreams" Bowering has "beaten," or the readers who encounter the "forms" he has "beaten" them into, or to the "long shadows," or the "son" or the inhabitants of the "Nord land" he mentions earlier in the poem? In any case, there is a suggestion in this collection that there are simply too many "forms" for Bowering, that he is capable of giving so many shapes to his dreams that there is no longer a refuge in the process of the poem—it simply opens on too much space—and Bowering’s poetry becomes a map that is bigger than the territory it describes. However, if it is the "poems" that "don’t even know" what Bowering "means," then the problem is cause for celebration, since Bowering himself becomes the pulse of meaning, and the poems point the way back towards the poet.
The human is thus recovered from text, or, rather, the site of meaning shifts from the textual to the human, as Bowering’s poems continually envision the poet emerging from and, in a sense discarding, the text, reclaiming the "form" that was only ever on "loan":
Nowadays the young want us to love the
earth, and I never say out loud to them that my
dear old people are columns of earth, walk around, sit in
chairs, discard cigarettes and write what’s left of
Blonds on Bikes, then, contains "what’s left," the poems that serve as a "remainder," as a gesture towards the "column" that is not lines on a page but rather the "earth" that is always "walking off" before we’ve even reached the bottom of the page he left behind.
- Lilies and Realism by Alexis Foo
Books reviewed: A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove by John Newlove, The Essential Don Coles by Don Coles, and Coal and Roses by P. K. Page
- Porter le deuil by Luc Bonenfant
Books reviewed: Si tu allais quelque part by Paul Chanel Malenfant, N'y allez pas by Jacques Ouellet, and Poèmes de veille by Jean Royer
- Mine Not Mine by Robert Stanton
Books reviewed: Mine by Stephen Collis, Sledgehammer by John MacKenzie, and The Asthmatic Glassblower and other poems by Billeh Nickerson
- Two Gold Bricks by Christine Wiesenthal
Books reviewed: The End of Travel by Julie Bruck and Anthem by Helen Humphreys
- Ivory Thoughts by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: The Last Canadian Poet: An Essay on Al Purdy by Sam Solecki
MLA: Dobozy, Tamas. Vanished Frames. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #176 (Spring 2003), Anne Carson. (pg. 121 - 122)
***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.