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Flexing the Poetry Muscle:
Michael Redhill's Twitch Force

Micheal Redhill's Twitch Force
Michael Redhill, Twitch Force
Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2019.

Engraved on every body and programmed to repeat, “twitch force” is a muscle’s “measurement of its energy potential,” so the back cover of Michael Redhill’s new volume tells us. Quirky, unaffected and completely at ease with itself, the whole book is a twitchy learning curve. Section headings alone—Astronomical Twilight, Chemical Drowsing, Core Sample—illustrate Redhill’s edgy range of call and response. While reading you inevitably increase your word horde. You find yourself looking up scientific terms for transformations of various kinds. You laugh. You learn.

Natural and cyber worlds frequently intersect in this collection. “Cheese Skipper” gives “this kind of fly” literary, electronic and mythological play. Redhill reads organic metamorphosis as a compelling book of life. Outdoing the depressed “clitocybe,” a mushroom that decomposes ground litter, “mycelium,” from the poem of that name is the vegetative part of a bacterial colony a “death-adoring fruit” with a “decaying portfolio” that “adapt[s] to the dead and thrive[s].” The existential thrill of growth animates “Plant Tomatoes Under a Full Moon,” with its “strong reaching under the soil // disorder of roots,” and “July 14,” where apricots form constellations and fireworks “shake and sizzle” into an “empty banging of stars.”

Such poems, as “Night Driving” create a mournful mystery: “In the washed-out skies of my childhood…the long lake seems like a tear in the world.” Writing about his father (“Azaleas”), Redhill plumbs lyric depths with bitterness and compassion. In “Core Sample xii,” he ‘finds’ his father in Kensington Market, “his genes shuffle-stumbling/ along the street,” and follows because they are both “vectors without // exit coordinates, vanishings without a point.”

Formal qualities further enrich these poems. Line breaks can be inspired, and some poems quiver with musical knowledge, from the minimalist composer, Nyman, to the Gryphon Trio in “Scar Tissue.” This is a stunning tour de force of spare interconnections across science, nature and art, astonished into nuggets of pure thought by densely significant moments that, once articulated, alter perception.

“Core Sample” drills down to creative fatigue: stuck with the habit of art, it is “Time for the midday slump. I’m in a cul-de-sac / on the way to enlightenment.” This 12-part poem potters about an absurd world comparing larval level life and various human neurotransmitters to assert that “Druggy // switchboards connect you / to your inner ghost.” It also circles towards light-hearted closure in which a child “inside the cereal box // tinker[s] with reality.”

While Redhill’s restless poetry muscle habitually twitch-forces our pre-figured “repetitions” into unexpected new energy, there is also a straight-talking drive to his voice. “The End” advises you to “stop thinking things will get better.” His angst hurts and mocks at the same time, casually inviting you to bitch and moan along with him, providing you are equally clever and funny and never pretentious. Twitch Force doesn’t overreach or yearn or alienate or convert. There’s no particular agenda. Each poem, to put it simply, is what it is. Take it or leave it.

Taking it is a trip.

Patricia Keeney is the author of 10 books of poetry and two novels. Her works have been translated into many languages including Chinese and Hindi. As a prize-winning theatre and literary critic, she publishes in Canadian and international journals. She is a professor of English and Creative Writing at York University in Toronto.

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