Lost in the Staging

Reviewed by Ryan Fitzpatrick

Taking cues from the work of American writer Kenneth Goldsmith and his ideas of uncreative writing, Calgary writer derek beaulieu’s How to Write is a series of conceptual larks that attempt to throw into question or crisis the idea of authorship in an age of sampling and repurposing. Each piece in How to Write refashions already available textual material according to a strenuous constraint or procedure. For example, the title poem that closes out the book gathers sentences containing the word write or writes from 40 public-domain works of literature. How to Write acts as a kind of strange microcosm of beaulieu’s previous work, containing in turns the playful and gentle humour of Frogments from the Frag Pool (2005), the surprising juxtapositions of Chains (2008), and the eyeball-clawing tedium of Flatland (2007). For me, beaulieu’s work is at its best when it is able to exceed its constraints, making us pay attention to the details of the text in addition to its clearly outlined scaffolding. At its high points, How to Write provides a tentative model for not only authorship, but also for readership, as beaulieu traverses the junk of the past and present, allowing us the opportunity to reflect on the possible ways that we can read and write.
P.E.I. writer David Hickey’s second collection Open Air Bindery is a far more modest collection of poems than beaulieu’s but traffics in a similar interaction of past and present. Open Air Bindery is a collection of short lyrics that explore the tensions between the contemporary urban (paying particular attention to the suburban) and a nostalgia for a past known mainly through representations of it. In Open Voyage, the opening poem of the collection, Hickey describes a painting of a woman sailing down the Nile, the narrator of the poem wishing that the boat would break the frame and continue sailing along the wall. This desired conflation of past with present lends Hickey’s best poems a kind of charge as, in Short Lives, he claims himself lost in the staging of the twentieth-first century— the slip here revealing an inability to let go of the twentieth century. Simply and thoughtfully, Hickey contemplates a world that fails to remain static
Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow) forwards itself as a kind of cross-genre experiment, marrying, if we are to believe the copy on the back cover, the novella and the long poem. Seelig’s book largely encompasses the first-person monologue of Sam, a failing composer whose thoughts meander from anxiety to anxiety, worrying in turns about money, the state of the world, and his relationships with his partner and his father. Layered on top of this is a compositional style that scatters the otherwise linear narrative across the page in a way that is perhaps interesting because of the way it slows the reader down (as suggested by the use of the word slow in the title). Seelig’s treatment of masculinity through the emasculated Sam is problematic, but Sam’s thoughts are despicable enough that he’s difficult to take seriously or empathize with. That said, the treatment of masculinity here feels very much of the last century, with its Oedipal winks and commie panic. Seelig’s book raises the question for me, perhaps intentionally, of whether there are ways to stage masculinity otherwise in the twenty-first century.

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