Collective Grievances

Reviewed by Eric Schmaltz

Amid austerity, rampant racism, trans- and homophobia, economic precarity, and political failures, it is hard to suggest that our modern conditions are anything other than bleak. This review will briefly identify some of the ways that these two authors have developed immersive writing strategies that reflect and respond to this turbulent landscape, where despondence and cynicism reign amid a noise of hashtags, commentary, and inflated personalities.

Downverse (2014), Nikki Reimer’s second full-length collection of poems, is both humorous and sharply critical. Reimer immerses her writing within the conditions of millennials—a generation of supposedly disappointed and disenfranchised persons faced with social, economic, and political uncertainty. Employing tactics of erasure, collage, and unconventional typography, Downverse intervenes into and reconfigures the linguistic materials of new media to work through these issues in a way that is reflective of the disjunctive information age, but also critical of the conditions that come with it. The opening poem “Prorogue” intimates the angst of the collection through a series of negative statements such as “Not shop not fuck / Not medicate not cry / Not deny not distract,” effectively articulating the sense of stasis that overwhelms the millennial generation. The following poems variously speak to this seemingly insurmountable situation. For example, “television vs. the real” blends the language of psychoanalytic discourse and to identify the often conflicting and impossible advice offered by TV personalities, while “insurance outcomes” uses numerical facts to show the ways in which a body and its parts are reduced to capital by a flawed system. Both a lament and an expression of frustration, Downverse perfectly captures the cynicism of a generation, but also represents a desire to find a pathway out of these mired conditions.

In contrast to the noisy and visually disjunctive Downverse, ryan fitzpatrick’s Fortified Castles (2014) is a strikingly balanced work that is broken into three sections “21st Century Monsters,” “Fortified Castles,” and “Friendship is Magic.” The poems in the first and last sections are composed in couplets while each of the poems of the middle section are comprised of twelve lines each. This compositional symmetry is distinct from Downverse yet the two share much in common—mainly, their shared interest in grievance. Minus the visual clutter of informational realms, fitzpatrick writes from within ego-centric spheres, enraptured with selfies and branded personalities—indeed, our own fortified castles—to create paratactic lyric collages, adequately described in “I’m Through With You” as “reams and reams of falling apart.” Though at times the text seems to mock this culture, there is a strong undercurrent of hope. At the core of Fortified Castles is a question regarding the possibilities of cooperative action in the face of failures to collectively mobilize among interfaces and networks that are designed for singularity and isolation. In “Passive Recreation” the text articulates responsive mechanisms to these conditions: “How can we develop trails in the watershed? We need to pack even tighter. We need to create a density.” In these tightly formulated poems, fitzpatrick uses poetry to collect the disparate sentiments of a divided people to demonstrate that, as an epigraph notes, “All our grievances are connected” and it is from here that we must begin to work.

This review “Collective Grievances” originally appeared in Agency & Affect. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 223 (Winter 2014): 147-48.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.