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Shaking the Tail:
John Emil Vincent's Ganymede's Dog

John Emil Vincent Ganymede's Egg
John Emil Vincent, Ganymede's Dog
Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2019.

The titular and opening poem of Ganymede’s Dog dominos quickly from the abductee of the ancient myth to his appropriation by Budweiser (a depiction of the boy being carried away by an eagle once graced the beverage’s label) to the cup bearer’s dog who was left “carrying on in the various oil paintings taken down by witnesses.” If we thought we were heaven bound with the boy, we are instead startled back to earth and into the company of the eponymous Joey who is left to mourn after his boy.

In “Ganymede’s Dog” Vincent writes, “Once abducted by a god, you get got again by a giant company, and who knows, next perhaps Disney. This is, typically, the pattern.” A contemporary context coincides with a diverse cast of characters in these prose poems. Alongside Zeus’s cohort, we bang heads with Pinocchio, Draco, and Santa Anna, to roll call but a few. This is not a writing against received versions of myth or history so much as it is subjecting them to an entirely new treatment. What results are poems that are diffuse and refuse to settle, poems that lean into their own disjunction.

In “The obscure charms of the lately extinct cunning folk of New Brunswick,” we join Jesus whose donkey has sprained its ankle. “But he [Jesus] didn’t stop and yet his donkey didn’t drop Jesus because you just don’t. Sprain or no. Donkey or not.” At times the rhythm and syntax have you tripping over your own tongue. We are, not unlike Joey, struggling to make incongruities articulate, struggling to carry the load.

One of the pain points is aging in a world whose preference is for youth. Yet this, like so much in this collection, doesn’t go without rejoinder. “Charming spot, inspiring prospects” notes that middle age “isn’t let’s be frank in the middle of anything. Since the end’s not yet enunciated” and infuses it with humour: “One ritual middle-aged gay men have invented to pass time, after of course mastering boar bile enemas, the hot iron for hemorrhoids, trepanning and bloodletting, is studying the actual Middle Ages.”

Vincent’s titles are their own small reckoning. Take “Only as good as the team managing your brand” or “A short necessary treatise on humility.” “MAYBE IF I SHOUT AT YOU YOU’LL TRUST IN WHAT I’M SAYING” is another. The work is conscious of its own materiality, placing a question mark atop certain approaches to writing and referencing literature widely from Shirley Jackson to Billy Collins to Dostoyevsky.

Each poem has a tail-wagging concluding sentence or phrase that stands apart yet doesn’t neatly wrap up what has gone before. If these poems and their extensive cultural references are an effort at some kind of resolution, they fail by their own admission. After we have dispensed with Oedipus, “Yeah, we know you marry your mom, you idiot,” in “The Greeks regretting the invention of theatre,” there is a release of pent up emotion. As this poem closes, “It didn’t solve the problem, but / sure felt good.”

 

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

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