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One Man's Embankment:
Ben Ladouceur's Mad Long Emotion

Ben Ladouceur's Mad Long Emotion
Ben Ladouceur, Mad Long Emotion
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2019.

Ben Ladouceur follows Otter, his Gerald Lampert Memorial Award-winning debut collection, with Mad Long Emotion. It opens with a direct address to the reader in “Property of: _________________.” The poem is a “gift like every gift,” for the giver and not the receiver. The poem is for the poet.

The fourteen sonnets that make up section one incorporate God and dandelions, semen and statues, morphemes and Go. Go the game, that is. The terrain of the traditional form is occupied by associative leaps with each sentence confined to a line of varying metre. Ladouceur nods to an Ars Poetica in “Shoulder Season,” intent on documenting the “other carnages” even when talking of the infinite, even if this impulse works against “the fashion of the day to love life and keep it at that.” There is a physicality to these poems whether it is in the birds that are “down to fuck” (“Vulgaris”) or in the uniqueness of every anus: “Don’t laugh but the anus is the true snowflake of the mortal body. / No two offer the same Lichtenberg figure if inked” (“Bethesda Foundation”).

Section two changes tack. Two long poems each map the unfolding of a relationship against a physical geography. These relationships are always already tracking towards separation, “jaded long before / the time for jadedness / has come” (“Six Weeks”). In “Lime Kiln Quay Road,” after a car hits a rabbit, “one man feels the additional weight / and one doesn’t.” The schoolhouse where the couple have been living changes from “our roof” to “your roof.” The train journey charted in “Toronto—Vancouver” must come to an end but the lovers disembark in disparate locations. Even endings are events lived separately: “One man exits the train / at Jasper. Then the other, at Vancouver.” (“Toronto—Vancouver”)

Ladouceur erodes the distinction between the animal and the human when it comes to desire. We have human loosestrife, colonising lamprey that change the character of the lake, the dog that will repeat the same pain inducing mistake in an effort to satisfy a hunger. As “Lime Kiln Quay Road” puts it:

Birds aren’t fighters.
All they do is
put miles between
themselves and you.

The third and final section consists of a single long poem, written after a piece of writing by Agnes Martin. We catch glimpses of the painter before Ladouceur springboards into his own white space, deplete of commas and full stops: “so faint her pencil work we could not see it in 360p resolution / I saw a vast white plane in her / the window bisected the snow from below” (“The Untroubled Mind”).

The poem see-saws between abstractions of space to the concrete of a $900 underground apartment and the veins of a fittonia. Any linear notion of time collapses. Relationships are lived backwards and forwards in quick succession. The mind, if untroubled, is not empty. What it does allow for is to rest awhile in the reticulation. Though each section of Mad Long Emotion has a distinctive texture, these poems are all seeking a place to dwell, whether in the clearing of a Martin canvas or in the churning of unfulfilled desire.

 

Eimear Laffan’s work has appeared in Ambit, MoonPark Review & Wildness Journal. She lives in Nelson, British Columbia

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