Chronicling the narrative of a Yukon lad turned Torontonian, Downtown Flirt speaks to urban living with refreshingly honest poetry. From contemplating a second shower to fix a soapy scrotum to the cons of black mattress covers, Jickling brings the reader into these lived moments with full transparency. The casual tone and diction of the poetry make it incredibly accessible, as it reads like a series of relatable journal entries rooted in economic struggle, connection amidst social isolation, and the congestion of urban living.
The text carries a pace as fast as the urban environment that inspired it through Jickling’s effective use of minimalism and powerful imagery. Like a literary pizza driver, the reader continually delves into snippets of Jickling’s life in Toronto in two pages or less. This powerful ability to create compact narratives is shown through his concise and compelling prompts for readers to fill in the gaps, as exemplified in the five lines of, “Second Location.” After briefly stating how the character was drinking and went to a second bar, it ends with, “the bartender’s eyes say, You’ve had a few. / Mine reply, I’ll behave.” With only twelve words, Jickling delivers an incredibly complex image.
Filled with playful humour, Jickling manipulates the formatting of his poems to immerse the reader in the narrative of the character. In “Failed Registration,” the inability to find an ID card is relayed through a stanza that inventories useless “In wallet” items like old hotel keys and library cards before a second stanza of what’s “Not in wallet” that consists of “driver’s license / health card.” With something as relatable as needing something you cannot find, you feel Jickling’s anxiety as he struggles to find his ID. Each new item propels the anticipation of the desired item’s discovery and perpetuates the awkward intensity of the situation. As if affirming this manipulation of our emotional investment, Jickling gives us what the character (and we) yearned for, by including a cheeky epilogue which states, “found them, other jeans.”
This capacity to buy into the character’s adventures is not bound to the subject of the poems but projected onto the character’s personification of items in the character’s world. We hear about Barry the mattress and an orchid Jickling negotiates the temperature of the room with and routinely updates the reader on through a series of poems within the collection. Jickling shares his inanimate ‘friends’ with the reader as he combats the ironic isolation of urban life.
Often funny and always compelling, Downtown Flirt offers a clever and gritty look into the starving artist all the while reinforcing Peter Jickling’s writing prowess within the Canadian community.
Born in Toronto and raised in the sticks of Tweed, Ontario, Jordan Prato is a Carleton University Alumni and aspiring teacher.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.