Necessarily Unnatural: Jamie Sharpe’s Cut-Up Apologetic

The title of Whitehorse poet Jamie Sharpe’s second collection of short, sharp narratives, Cut-Up Apologetic (ECW Press), references the cut-up method of composition utilized by a number of artists, from the Dadaists to William Burroughs, Ted Berrigan and David Bowie. Wringing out his own series of lyric apologies, explorations, explanations and exasperations, the result of Sharpe’s methods suggest more narrative than arbitrary slice, yet this collection of lyric collage attempts to deliberately compound meanings, ideas and concepts not usually associated with each other. The most overt play on this blend occurs in the fourth section of the five-part collection, and includes poems such as “Revamp/Writer’s Market Guide,” “Mark Rothko/Burt Reynolds” and “On a Rope/Great Moments in Physics #46,” suggesting a blend of content and concept, which they indeed are, but exist just as much as a bouncing-off point than any kind of description of contents. The poem “Mark Rothko/Burt Reynolds,” for example, reads:

When they painted him over,
using a colour he’d been,

its freshness clashed
with his old, new grey.

Crowds of prunes
shower kisses on
a lacklustre plum.

What makes this collection move beyond the lyric observational/meditational that has permeated so much of the past few years of poetry produced through ECW Press is in the ways in which Sharpe plays with language, pushing an abstract against a wry, dark and occasionally odd sense of humour, reminiscent in places of the work of Cobourg, Ontario poet Stuart Ross. As the press release tells us, the collection “is naïve and playful even when examining fear expressed as discrimination or the ways restlessness transitions into an inertia spelling cultural death.” There is a pessimism throughout, as in the poem “Laugh Track,” which opens with: “Everything not natural / is manmade. Put another way: / what is built is necessarily // unnatural.” Throughout the book, he references various manmade calamities, including fracking and climate change (and repeatedly, plagiarism) while asking the important questions of how to live in the world without destroying it, or even the possibilities of living as the world is being destroyed, and our options reduce down to zero. The poem ends: “We only had time / to waste. Naturally, we made / the living dead.”

This streak of pessimism does not make Cut-Up Apologetic, overall, a pessimistic collection, but darkness is a means Sharpe uses to explore what possibilities might exist for comprehension, and what that comprehension implies. There are graphs, sketches and photographs included as both illustration and visual poem, all of which works to push a dark view of a possible future (or alternate present) that might allow the entire collection a shade of optimism, including the tiny gem, “You Prefer Al Purdy.” In the final poem of the collection, “We, That Respect the Foreigner,” a two-page piece that makes up the entirety of the fifth section, he informs us that “In another existence we are far away / and have arrived.”


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at



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