With nine previous trade collections and a number of significant awards in his rear-view, John Barton is well within selected-poems territory. But as perhaps the first career retrospective by a Canadian openly gay male poet, For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin also charts the broad strokes of a 30-year sea change. In […]
I’m sceptical of the word “progress” when talking about poets and their careers. Progress implies too strong a value judgement, as though, by some objective measure, we can say that practice and the wisdom of age necessarily make for better poetry. There are too many contrary examples of canonical poets whose best work came in their early- or mid-careers to accept the proposition (Wordsworth and Lowell come immediately to mind). I like “career” much better as a verb–swift, uncontrolled action–and, even better, I like “career narrative” as the record of those twists and swerves. _This Way Out_ is definitely a swerve in Carmine Starnino’s narrative, one that draws out a basic conflict that has been playing through Starnino’s poetry for some time. To be more precise, it’s a conflict in the poetics more than the poems: a conceptual tension between “writing about x” and “writing poetry.”
Matthew Tierney’s _The Hayflick Limit_ opens with an excerpt from Joseph Brodsky’s winter eclogue, which in its 13 words raises at least as many questions: if each body “falls prey” to the telescope, is distance the hunter? Is proximity? Discovery? Is being preyed upon a relief from the indifference of time, death an acknowledgment of existence? The brevity and the stab of those lines pries us open, leaving the reader far more vulnerable than the poet, though Brodsky evidently knew whereof he wrote. Even my grumpy expectations are not so high as to compare Tierney to his epigraphist, but what a lesson in how to offer poems to their readers. In this second collection, Tierney offers up our world, from the commonplace to the contemporary to the cosmic, with craft and cleverness, but he shies away from that Brodsky-esque eviscerating evocation. …
Feature Review by Triny Finlay
Laura Farina. This Woman Alphabetical. Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2005.
Andrew Steinmetz. Hurt Thyself. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005.
Tony Cosier. The Spirit Dances. Manotick: Penumbra Press, 2005.
In her recent book 21st-Century Modernism: The “New” Poetics, American critic Marjorie Perloff wonders “what if, despite the predominance of a tepid and unambitious establishment poetry, there were a powerful avant-garde that takes up, once again, the experimentation of the early twentieth century?” Perloff’s definition of the avant-garde in Anglo North-American poetry foregrounds technical and formal invention; a preoccupation with the materiality of language; and the genre-breaking, non-representational innovations of early Modernists like T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein. In Canada, this type of avant-garde poetry is generally given short shrift, limited to occasional media frenzies surrounding such anomalous, popular phenomena as the procedural poetics of Christian Bok. And this is a contentious matter in contemporary Canadian poetics, this quest for the “new” in a forest of old growth. Open almost any anthology (or anti-anthology) of new Canadian poetry published in the last five years–tellingly, there are several–and you will indeed find a considerable amount of “establishment poetry.” But there are unexpected, unexposed avant-garde roots among many contemporary Canadian poets, which just might signal a paradoxical return to the “new.”
Thirteen years ago Toronto poet Bill Kennedy wrote an apostrophe, a poem in a series of statements meant to address absent people, ideas, or entities as though actually present. The piece amounted to a lengthy group of “you are” lines of an increasingly bizarre, obscure and allusive nature: “you are a pretense to universality,” “you are a B- grade on a C paper,” “you are a piece of performance art that deep down inside wants to be a bust of Beethoven sitting on a Steinway grand piano,” running the gamut from high to low culture, from Robert Southey to Robert Plant. Some years later, he and fellow poet Darren Wershler-Henry created a Web site that could trawl the Web seeking out other “you are” statements. When each of the original lines was inputted, the ‘apostrophe engine,’ as they call it, would amass an entirely new poem comprised of “you are” lines. The outcome is apostrophe, a highly entertaining and truly innovative book that operates with a panopticon view of the Web, removing sentences from their sources and jamming them together.