Vancouver poet and critic Clint Burnham’s latest poetry title is Pound @ Guantánamo : 20 Poems: 2005-2014, a collection “composed during wartime,” connecting Ezra Pound’s months in a US Military prison camp in Pisa, Italy to contemporary prisoners in the US Military prison camp situated in the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The twenty poems of Pound @ Guantánamo exist in a space both temporal and geographic, as well as virtual, composing incredibly compact collage poems blending fragments of pop culture, the immediacy of his Vancouver, translation, police actions, colonial legacies, hashtags and a variety of aggressions and oppressions. Burnham writes in a powerful language patter and pattern where densities overlap and collide, as he writes in “HASHTAG@GITMO”:
the lonely planet
the gregarious asteroid
the co-dependent moon
the overtaxed sun
the burnt-out star
the shunned dwarf planet
the anarchistic gravel
the laptoplugging pavement
the faxmachine dropping curbstone
the racist overpass
the homophobic bush
the sexist but in a charming because unwitting way grandfather
Originally emerging from the 1980s and 90s small press community in and around Toronto, Burnham’s work since landing west has broadened, connecting to a wide and varied history of language poetry and social engagement favourably compared to the works of Kootenay School of Writing alumni Jeff Derksen, Colin Smith and Peter Culley, and Calgary poet Louis Cabri. As the back cover informs, Burnham “swerves through the neoliberal and the hyperlocal, gathering fragments and contexts.” Some of the subject matter of Pound @ Guantánamo harkens back to an earlier collection, his Be Labour Reading (ECW Press, 1997), a collection that one might argue bridges the gap between his Toronto and Vancouver influences, but is far more focused as a book-length project akin to The Benjamin Sonnets (BookThug, 2009).
The aggressive prose poem, “NO POEMS ON STOLEN LAND,” at the beginning of the collection opens with an acknowledgment that most might be aware of, writing “I’d like to acknowledge that we are on stolen land.” By the fourth page, the poem has pushed forth a series of statements on power and powerlessness, and the fact that simply acknowledging is no longer good enough: “I’d like to acknowledge the acknowledging that we are on stolen, colonized, denied, dispossessed, unceded, ripped off, boosted, jimmied native land doesn’t do a damn bit of motherfucking difference and I’d just like to acknowledge that.” When one suggests that poems are composed “as a call to action,” that isn’t a statement offered lightly: Burnham composes, perhaps, ironically so, poems that wrestle with the notion that more than talking or issuing statements (or writing poems) is enough. There has to be action associated with the speaking, otherwise, what’s the point?
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). In fall 2015, he was named “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and recently became a regular contributor to both the Drunken Boat and Ploughshares blogs. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.
THE EVER-NEW ARC