“To dislike this poem, to dislike me,” begins one of the poems in Elizabeth Bachinsky’s The Hottest Summer in Recorded History. The line is both a continuation of the title, “Somewhere there is Someone Waiting,” and a statement that stands on its own, asserting that the poem and its speaker are equivalent, and playfully challenging the reader to dislike them. From here the poem rushes forward in a stream of consciousness, listing possible reasons why one may not like the poem, until it asks, finally, cajolingly, “How could you not like me? Not like this thing?” This combination of self-reflexivity and playfulness is at the heart of Bachinsky’s collection. These poems invite us to contemplate what poetry is, who makes it, and what our expectations are as readers.
Perhaps the best example of Bachinsky’s testing the genre is the ongoing text message conversation threaded through the book. The vernacular and mundane nature of this conversation—in which “Elizabeth” complains of boredom, in which the other texter says hello with “Davey in the hizzy”—adds to the collection’s whimsical and spontaneous tone. The texters even exchange suggestions on how the titles of Alice Munro stories could become pornography titles—“The Lives of Girls and Women / and More Girls—Really Hot Girls” and “Who Do You Think You Are (Up My Skirt).”
These text message poems also emphasize that this is a collection about relationships and connections with other people. Far from the traditional image of the solitary poet in quiet contemplation, the speaker here is in constant dialogue. Almost all of the poems are “for” someone—friends, fellow poets—and as these italicized names accumulate beneath each title they become a theme, connecting pieces that otherwise span geography (Vancouver, Montreal), form (the villanelle, pastiche), and subject (love, dreams, the writing process). The best of these poems capture moments in a relationship that are personal and unique, such as “Up in the 747” which describes “When, for no reason, my sister leaned over and bit me, hard, / on the outside of my upper arm above my elbow.” There is both intimacy in the specificity of this moment and universality in the emotional connection captured between the sisters: “‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. I don’t know why I just did that.’”
Bachinsky’s strength is in the way she records the vivid yet simple details of life: “the decade / of cleaning our things in the nude so as not to ruin / our clothes with all the bleach,” the “tropical fish magnets / that wiggled when you opened and closed / the door to the fridge.” In such details the relationships are authenticated, and as readers we feel like we are eavesdropping on both the intimate and the ordinary—excluded from the personal experience of the memory but privy to the image and the feeling it produces. Ultimately, then, we are left with the sense that the “someone waiting” to dislike Bachinsky and her poems does not matter, for her book is already populated by countless friends.
Jennifer Delisle is a writer, editor and academic in Edmonton. She has published widely in magazines and journals, and is a member of Room Magazine’s editorial collective. She is also the author of The Newfoundland Diaspora: Mapping the Literature of Out-migration. www.jenniferdelisle.ca.