Alessandro Porco on Steven Venright’s Floors of Enduring Beauty

by Alessandro Porco

an Arc Rave

Steven Venright. Floors of Enduring Beauty. Toronto:
Mansfield Press, 2007.

“I believe in domains of existence vivid and compelling beyond even this miraculous reality we call the world.” So says Steven Venright in his statement of poetics published in the anthology Surreal Estate. It’s through language–“a shamanic gloop out of which visions emerge and new meanings are formed”–that Venright reveals, and revels in, the “vivid and compelling beyond.” “The Turbulated Curtain,” the opening poem from Venright’s latest book, Floors of Enduring Beauty, provides the best gloss on Venright’s style: “A languid lingual torrent coming out of my own head like textoplasm, full of typogres and lexichauns.” Surreal wordplay, philosophic wit, and Romantic world-making imperatives abound. Venright’s poetry is perfectly intransitive. It’s distinguished by lush grammatical constructs full of strange juxtapositions (“In a blaze of chocolate the wood nymph hurtles through the office tower, exciting tensions and defoliating zeitgeists”); oneiric narrative scenarios (“I turned around to see a middle-aged man and woman, nude except for bowling shoes and vertically striped knee socks, running towards me down the hall, waving machetes”); and, more locally, portmanteaus, nonce, neologisms, and spoonerisms in service of the “Convulsive Beauty, Black Humor, [and] Mad Love” of architextual “floors” above, below, and beyond that of our own often flat architectural world. Venright’s genius (yes, genius!) is most evident in three key poems. First, “Beautiful Thoughts,” which presents 24 Dhammapada-like ethical teachings that are sometimes tinged with elegiac irony: for example, “Clear / your mind // of all thoughts // except / the ones // you are currently // thinking” or “Most things // don’t happen.” These thoughts achieve beauty precisely because they do not extend beyond thinking. Next, “The Tin of Fancy Excrements: A Journey of the Self” is an apocalyptic quest poem that begins, ominously: “The greyness of the city, in cold steam, draws us back to its industrial powder rooms with their blue skeletons and pneumatic tweezers, their goldmirrored walls and coiled tubes [. . .] The floors, still stained here and there with blood, are tiled in hyperrealist staircase motifs–a cruel deception for tormented souls with no path of escape.” This is Venright at his most purgatorial and visionary. This world is recognizable yet incomprehensible; it’s ours–human–yet decidedly absent of humanity: “There are people in this town, but always in the distance”. Finally, the book’s magisterial work, “Manta Ray Jack and the Crew of the Spooner,” was, I contend, the single best poem published in Canada in 2007. It’s a ballad-like tale of an evening’s saturnalian romp in a lighthouse–lots of sex, farts, and overall scatological fun. And every sentence of the 21-page prose-poem includes at least one spoonerism! For example, here, the arrival of the sailors is described: “Also visible in the roving light was a sprawl of schoonerists whose ship, now docked, was covered in the scrawl of spoonerists” (74). Later, the Captain describes how his schooner “[voyaged] to Malaysia to enjoy some teriyaki bluefin halibut in a very tacky flu-bin Bali hut notorious for its mystic fillets and fistic melees” (76). “Manta Ray Jack” is delirious fun. It excites the erotic ear. Venright’s poem is a work of total virtuosity, a peerless poem in Canadian poetry. Indeed, the same may be said for Floors of Enduring Beauty as a whole.


an Arc Review [read more reviews]

Published in Arc 61: Winter 2009

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