Dazzling Irrelevance: Jay MillAr’s Timely Irreverence

Somewhere in the world
there is a book.

It’s a book of poems
by somebody, somewhere.

This book sits on a shelf
filled with other books.

And in this book there is
a poem. I’m sure of it.

—“Tasteful Creatures”

Given the title of his seventh trade poetry collection, Timely Irreverence, Toronto poet, editor and publisher Jay MillAr, who also sells books under Apollinaire’s Bookshop (“selling the books that no one wants to buy”) suggests that he writes as though no one is listening, and no one is reading. This is irrelevance, sure, but only and entirely on his own terms. “It can be difficult to exist as a poet in a culture that generally looks the other way,” MillAr writes at the back of the collection, in his “Notes & Acknowledgments.” In this collection, MillAr writes on the intricate smallness of things, the seemingly irrelevant things, including poems, poets, amoeba, geometry, patience, and television. Throughout the collection, there are trace echoes of the plainspeaking meditative essay-poem of David W. McFadden’s Art of Darkness (McClelland & Stewart, 1984)—a philosophical cadence and prosaic structure that threads through more than a couple of pieces, including “Another Person’s True Essence,” where he writes:

A woman writes
overlooking the sea—it is somewhere in America and
poetry has touched her shoulder gently as she looks out
over the harbor above the city. She is writing. A man

The watched writer: here is some of the “irrelevance” that MillAr turns on its head—whether as the publisher at BookThug, recently claiming the mantle long held by McClelland and Stewart as the Canadian publisher, or as a writer beloved of other writers—this book has so many blurbs by other writers that less than half could fit on the back cover (the rest are inside). Given his potential audience and list of admirers, can he continue to claim to be irrelevant? Still, MillAr’s poetry very much revels in the quiet of the everyday, of the domestic, in that William-Carlos-Williams or Robert-Creeley way of the meditatively immediate, composing short breath-lines into short poems less geographically located than personally located. It’s as though MillAr lives in the same way his poems do—quietly, tempered, thoughtful, and considered, with one of the finest examples of such being the poem “BEING A REVISION,” that blends all of the above:

Poor Hazel sprained
or broke her foot swimming –
can’t tell yet, so she’s hobbling
around behind their
excited frames, within a
sprained or broken presence –
she’s hobbling around it
swimming in the sprained
or broken frame, excited
and unknowing, at least so far
as she follows them down the hall.

The notes I have gathered include
only information on the information.
I decide quietly grids of technology
are not the wind, nor are they
the water nor the earth. They
are the ideas that hold things still
long enough to consider them.

We would be wise to listen.

rob mclennan is author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. The most recent is Songs for little sleep (obvious epiphanies press, 2012). He blogs at robmclennan.blogspot.com.


Arc: a book of poems.

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