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Deconstructing Prairie Lore:
K.B. Thors' Vulgar Mechanics

K.B. Thors, Vulgar Mechanics
K.B. Thors, Vulgar Mechanics
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2019.

In K.B. Thors’ debut collection of poetry the Ukrainian-Icelandic Canadian deftly weaves the themes of identity and oppression through the rural landscape of Alberta.

Thors challenges gender binary norms at every turn, exposing the challenges of growing up in farm country as queer or non-binary in a conservative community. Male violence underscores one of its primary issues. Take for example, here in the poem “Pulse”: Guys at home say they hope a gay bar does / open downtown – easy to get a bat, shoot / fish in a barrel.

While the theme of violence makes its way through the book, Thors creatively uses wordplay to either soften or harden its exposure. Thors work is seamless. She has a knack for evoking fresh images through alliteration: “even if I were the wine of wrath, rising steady / as steam / along the highway.”

Thors also does an exemplary job of building imagery in every poem with colloquialisms and diction connected to living in the prairies: farming, fracking, and cowboy culture. Take these lines from the opening poem “Girl Gives Birth to Thunder”: “riddled with spit cups I ripped this spare / pair of truck balls from the winch” or the clever final refrain “Fuck derring. / We epidural-do.” The juxtaposition of words often associated with masculinity (“transmission”) with the more feminine (“lady parts”), creates a powerful tension not only in the dialogue, or meaning of the poem, but with syntax. This helps underscore the complexity of the speaker’s environment with their place in it. Identity is constantly frayed and fractured like the land being cultivated for capitalism:

Count the mountains
between contractions – let’s
get ready to rumble. Baiting
the prairie is disaster – synapse
gone lickety-split to seed.

The social politics of the female body play a role in all three sections of Vulgar Mechanics. While exploring her own biological mechanics in the poem “Mojo Rising” there’s a push to use language of the land as a vehicle to answer particular questions about identity and agency. “If I bleed this fever all the way out, do I get time to myself?” Thors highlights the subjugation and fetishism of the female body as the speaker wrestles with her own freedom and space of being a woman who “just got into town an hour ago.” Thors acknowledges this risk and urgency, but cleverly flips the agency around in poems like “Drunk Tank,” “Reverse Cowgirl” and “Mineral Block” where the speaker is very much in control of her impulses and desires.

Thors’ spotlighting of the oppression of living in the prairies alters the perspective of rural Canada from quaint and idyllic to hostile and vulgar. There’s something insightful and cathartic about using settler vocabulary and turning it around on itself. Collectively these poems work like eerie photos in a township archive. It’s hard to take your eyes away.

 

Aidan Chafe is the author of the poetry collection Short Histories of Light that was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. His second book Gospel Drunk will be published in 2021 with University of Alberta Press. He lives on unceded territory of the Musqueam and Qayqayt First Nations (Burnaby, BC).

ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.