Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Holidays ....

.... for one week, yeehaw! Powell River, Van Isle, Vancouver.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Harold Rhenisch's "Free Will"

I admit boredom with a heavy trend these days in contemporary Canadian poetry: the long poem sequence, as well as the thematic book long poem. These often lack the unifying force and narrative drive of the classic long poem, while keeping the disadvantages of repetitive subject matter and content, unfocussed factoids and anecdotal asides, and bloated scope. Lyric concentration is also lost with the added length. I want to be clear: I'm not critical of the efforts so much as the difficulty of climbing the sheer structural rockface. And I realize there are exceptions, and that I've missed much interesting material in this line, as well. But I have read a fair amount of thematic continuation that taxed my goodwill by page four.

One such volume is Harold Rhenisch's Free Will from 2004. Poets, reviewers, critics, readers lie when they say they don't approach any book with expectations or an idea of what it's about, for good or ill. A good book of poetry will overcome any negative assumption (if the reader is careful) anyway. So when I read the blurbs, the book cover intro, the mini-synopses, I looked forward to a volume filled with wit, irreverence, and (O wild hope!) at least mild profundity.

Very early on, those hopes were dashed, somewhat in the manner that one might imagine entering a boxing ring as a challenger to Mike Tyson, having been lead to believe that he was dining at the all-night buffet every day the past three months, when, (frightening sight), he appeared dripping blood from gapped teeth, lean and mean, a pit bull with missing ears whimpering and circling at the floor-ring's corner.

I ignored the poet's intro, since I didn't want to be directed in how to read the poetry, or to receive a dramaturgical overview spanning the centuries.

The book's first poem, "Telling The Truth", is a prime exhibit of what American poet and critic Dana Gioia pegs as pseudo-formalism. Gioia defines this as verse which appears visually as if it were closed, and which perhaps begins with metrical, syllabic, and line-stopped traditional understanding, but then -- musically -- quickly falls apart. The start of "Telling The Truth":

"When someone asks you for the truth,
for God's sake, lie. Give them what they want.

And if they ask again, lie a second time,
a third, a fourth, until you're hoarse;

sign every paper they slide across to you,
their finger on the line, where they ask you

for your house, your car, your stocks;
pay the interest on your debt, accept the truth,

stand before the camera and tell them how it was,
how it's all true -- you blew up that bridge,

stole those plans, took your boss's wife
to Palm Beach -- for you have been to Hell

and back these past few weeks, and deserve
no less than an end to lies, fine print,"

At first glance, this looks like blank couplets in tetrameter, a slight Shakespearian shortening, then. A (perhaps) modern nod to short attention spans. The first line is regular iambic tetrameter, the next line adds a syllable (with the sentence break), but still acts with rhythmic continuity. The next couplet is still regular, though the third line adds three syllables. And with the fifth line, the rhythm falls apart. The first of many nonsensical line breaks begins with "Hell//and", the language becomes increasingly flat (after this quoted segment), the syntax clumsy, the compression unspooled, the voice amorphous.

Elsewhere in modern verse which uses traditional forms, a variance between regularity within that form and modest to wild contrasts going out of bounds from it (in effective cases) act in concert with purposeful changes in mood (careful/ strict to emotionally revelatory, just to give one of many, many examples). No such planning or success as to change in content is evident in the above poem, however.

And the book is witless. How can the contrast be made any more egregious in a book sequence purporting to riff on some of Shakespeare's charms? Monkeys act silly, bananas descend from the theatrical "heavens", "Fortinbras had fallen from favour" in a futuristic fantasy ("10,000 Monkeys Locked in a Room"), "the scene of Rosalind reading Chatelaine/ while having her nails done," ("Iago's Version"), and a book full of other examples strain for wit, even audacious humour, and consistently fall face first into the front balcony tuba.

If the intent was to mirror Shakespeare's great, immortal idea of the eternally ambiguous discrepancy between appearance and reality, so wondrously depicted in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rhenisch has shown us that his effort isn't even a descriptive footnote to that grandeur.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Scalar Scabrous Roustabout Inveighs Sleepily Towards Steve McCaffery's "Theories Of Sediment"

David Seymour calls Steve McCaffery's work "a delight" and "pleasurable", and why should this be a surprise?Those are the first qualities of all good poetry. So, then, I was quite prepared, Theories Of Sediment in hand, to bask in the profusion of musical mayhem and mysterious capering unto. And surprise is what I experienced. Here are the sensual gambits revolutionising that carefree centuries-wide highway:

'The Code of System Four

We entered a city consisting of grey thursday mornings. But the verb enter seems partly inappropriate plus appropriate itself seems wrong. So it would be wrong to say the city could be entered though all its thursdays are grey and though grey itself consists entirely of its mornings. Today then is the morning when the verb to enter will seem wrong. Today as the day plus all the inappropriate parts themselves that will seem proper."

And so on ....

Let's micro-deconstruct (only on shy vectors and flat compositional fields, however) this. Who is "we"? Does it matter? Well, actually, no, since, as McCaffery says (and I paraphrase) elsewhere, "the reader is always right, he or she can fill in what they feel, and it's as worthy as the next person's experience". But it matters to ME, therefore here we go into the parallel madness (where's my rabbit's foot in the shape of Joyce?).

I want to know more about this city. The weather is overcast. So far, so good. A mood has been established, though rather crudely. Still, let's not get all "intellectual" and stuff. Intellect just KILLS sensitivity and flexibility, after all, and soon the music will be drowned out by all this useless chatter. So .... back we go to the text. There is now a "verb", and this active-transitive shocker "enters", so we have a verb verbing, as it were, the noun a verb, and the two of those verby carousers vectoring in verbose hectoring madcapping joy.

Still, there's disquiet. Annoyance? No, no. Just a vague unease. I can't put my finger on ..... but ahha! of course, what is the object? Or is that another "theory" of impediment that is beyond my skull and cap? Oh, give it up, give in to the sheer onrushing effluent of sound-orgy. But they (whoever this mysterious "they" is -- oh, Steve, what a teaser) are present tense (and, yes, there is tension, whether in the story or in myself, I don't yet know) yet they still enter ALL thursdays. How can all thursdays be cloudy when they've only entered one? And does this "entering" have a sexual overtone? Do we have an important, perhaps recurring, verbl metaphor here? Oops, McCaffery and clan don't like metaphor. Too Romantic and all. So .... probably not, because I can't read the poem like I'd want to, but only how it fits in with the "theory". Though here's a blunt contradiction. Steve has told us -- directly, for a change -- that the reader creates what he or she wants. Yet I'm wrong to see metaphor, since this is anathema to McCaffery's poetics. Is this then a multilayered false flag, a mischievous random (yet paradoxically placed) dropping to throw the reader off the scent, like the vectoring poet sprinkling ammonia on the lemon tort, waylaying and delaying them from the bigfoot spoors to the left and right?

Well, I haven't even managed to make it through the first paragraph/fieldscape yet, and there're still 200 + pages to go.

And only one life to live.

But there's no doubting the overwhelming delight involved so far.

I trip out over so much bliss, and leave the rest to some lucky naive sojourner to complete.

But I can't leave before quoting, in full, a line that, well .... descriptive words fail:

"The retinue cough in the sentence describing how the word oesophagus resettles to disclose mid-phrase "these ripples are an absolute dominion"."

Quelle macaque! (Or magic?)

I think we are being toyed with here, dear reader. The undefragging sputum-inducing retinue are ... of what quality? Can we say if they enter thursdays, EVERY thursday, just because that besotted calendar arrival is filled with cumulo-nimbus nebulous? The italicized word here -- what music! Handel would have fainted, and set it to his own waterworks. But I know that my nipples dominate the vector of this entry. And I don't mean just one day a week.

One more line before I pass (no double meaning here, on either side of the linear unspooling).

"Autoreferential: (CO)2 ND(I)4t(IO)2N+S3 Pragma" (from page 21).

Sorry if this seems out of context, because context is all, of course.

Happy Thursdays to all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John Pass' Stumbling In The Bloom

I was interested in reading John Pass' 2005 collection of poetry Stumbling In The Bloom for several reasons, interested by accumulating effect: he lives in the same vicinity as my newly transplanted environs, he won the GG award for this volume, and I'd never read anything by him before.

I'm always intrigued by the first poem in any book of poetry. Some authors pooh-pooh sequences, but I'm not convinced by their supposed insouciance and honesty. I believe most poets want to start out with a bang for a good reason. It sets the tone for what follows, and more importantly and practically, it hooks (or bores) a reader immediately. A casual reader flipping through a book (especially by an unfamiliar author) will often turn to the first page, and then make a snap decision after that first effort whether or not to keep reading and (perhaps) eventually purchase the thing.

Here are the beginning lines from the opener, "Raspberries, Roses":

"Come into the huge and intractable beauty
of what I thought I knew, dumbfounded

at the lucent breath
of uninhabited context, immense locality

where self's wisp (just reminded) whispers, oh
the terrible artifice of human thought."

How many readers snap(ped) the book shut after that start up, and continued to scan the 1, 001 other titles competing for their attention? And is it pedantic to list the specific bruises on the eyes this strange crafting admits?

The preciousness of the opening "Come into the huge and intractable beauty"; the reverse humility inherent in "what I thought I knew"; the grasping ineffability of "dumbfounded"; the abstract synesthetic link of "lucent breath"; the mind-killing "uninhabited context"; the overwritten "immense locality" (sometimes the most "poetic" phrase is the simplest, in this case, e.g., "large area"); the groaningly mean-nothing buzzword "self"; the parenthetical deadness of "(just reminded)"; the added preciousness of "wisp ... whispers"; and the telegraphed and laughingly self-important italicized "terrible artifice of human thought".

If this was a hockey game, the score would be 6-0 for the Actual Poetry team after the first twenty seconds.

The book's second poem -- "nowrite.doc" -- fared a little better. A long poem-sequence, it insinuates itself on the reader (this one, at least) by way of autobiographical ruefulness in the face of contrasting natural beauty. I know: sadness with euphony was patented by Wordsworth and a few million others, but it's still affecting if done with a specific twist of meaning or form. And I enjoyed the closely observed emotional synthesis of "then a single raven making its klook klook call like water, lonely". But this poem begins what will become an unfortunate staple of Pass' procedure: looseness. "nowrite.doc", despite its warmth and interesting introspection, is fatally marred by rambling in the way a solitary hiker negotiates a piney escarpment only to come, breathlessly and startled, back to the same starting point. There's no progession, no direction, no necessitous mark here. And the interminable long lines would only be justified if one were declaiming in excitement, and as I've said, the tone is antagonistic to that form. There's a very good reason that quiet lyrics tend to be of short-to-medium length. The air capacity (when spoken) and the contemplation (when read silently) encourage a slow and careful pace, frequently pausing (when enjambed) for necessary reflection. The opposite happens here, and it ruins what could have been a promising sequence. Actually, that's being a bit too generous. There are other problems here, as well. The autobiographical voice is not always acting as personal counterpoint to natural description. In fact it often overwhelms the images, even obliterates them, with weirdly insistent digressions into post-modern arguments on poetics, into throwaway diaristic doodles, into irritating and slight self-definition.

Pass' strong points are his careful attention to the progressions of nature, his love of same creating frequently arresting images. But even here, the images don't seem to serve any greater focus. I enjoy the evocations of "and mind's all scud and spindrift at cliff/and corners on the downcoast drive" from "Hallowell", along with its delightful rhythmic surge, but we're back again at that lower-level escarpment by poem's end, with its aimless long-legged awkward perambulations or entropic formulations.

I understand Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht was also short-listed, an also-ran this same year that Stumbling In The Bloom took home the GG.

Good gawd.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Steven Heighton's "Stalin's Carnival"

I just read again Steven Heighton's Stalin's Carnival (1989), and again enjoyed it immensely. Historical reflections and creative reenactments, sea poems (I love sea imagery), familial emotion, all of it bracketting a powerful first-person transmuting assault from Josef Stalin.

Why transmuting? Because Heighton -- usually highly creative; note the chances, often successful, he takes with form in this book-- doesn't satisfy expectations (that is) by cranking out a static fusillade of Stalinist megalomania (though that, too, gets its turn). The first entry of the Stalin set is a free adaptation of Stalin's second-ever published poem, in 1895. The tone is highly wrought, yet not without a certain colour and (certainly) vigour. Here are the last four lines:

"I shall tear like paper my silver blouse
And bear my breast to the moon
And with outstretched hands
Praise her who suckles the world with light."

(How much of that is Heighton's transcription, and how much is owed to Stalin is hard to decipher.) But the question that rushes to the fore after reading that date -- 1895 -- is everlastingly fascinating. What transformation --if any -- occurred in the Georgian butcher in the long intervening years -- 22 -- until the Revolution, and subsequent hammering fist? The romanticism never completely left: witness the programme music that Shostakovich had to churn out in 1950, only three years before his (Stalin's) death, to flatter the leader (only the great and complexly sly Shostakovich could still make art out of the awful parameters) and glorify the dream in sweeping vistas of sound.

The real moment in the series, and the book, occurs with "3. On Reading Darwin", and indeed, it's one of the twenty-five best Canadian poems I've ever read. Here it is in its entirety:

"From the shore I watched a cargo of chickens
Spill from a barge into the river.
Trapped in their wooden cages they floated
Momentarily in the freezing currents, then mutant
With fear, attacked one another, turned
Into fighting cocks, quarreling,
Screeching, bleeding as their barred
Coffins filled with water.

From the riverbank I saw the bargemen
Forfeiting profit for a moment's diversion
And laughing at the disappearing birds
I thought of hungry schools
Of fish scuttling through the bars
Like the scoured ribs of drowned sailors
And white wings beating an idle descent
Through an evolving darkness.
From the riverbank I saw the feathers
Form alien words on the face of the waters;
At first I could not read them and I was afraid."

The Seminary, 1896

The chilling "At first" in the last line is a sliding back from the earlier "And laughing at the disappearing birds", but it also contains by unvoiced sequential supposition the change back to that psychotic state.

I'm partial in general to poems that assume other voices, even the voices of famous personages, including those we know little about. Why not? Poetry isn't history, or the recasting of interior objectivity (as if such a thing could exist). There was a big kerfuffle a while back about authors -- often whites who wrote from first-person experience of minorities -- "expropriating" and "exploiting" the lives of others. But to follow that argument to its final resting place, we would have to deny the creative flux of those who wrote in the voice of ANYone from the past, or from out of one's social class or milieu or vicinity-- kings, merchants, monks, thieves, the other sex .... Even Gordimer and Lessing admit that it can be done (as their writing has shown, at times), as long as there's a familiarity with those of whom they write. Robert Lowell wrote an entire (long) volume of poetry -- History -- about specific historical figures, a good chunk of it in first-person, or at least assuming subjective interiors. Let the deconstructionists, with sour glee, pick it apart as "lies".

That Heighton did this with Stalin shows courage; that he succeeded shows that he cleared the iron bar with the notches set a few feet higher.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Peter Trower

I first discovered the poetry of Peter Trower by a lucky perusal through some forgotten second-hand bookstore round about 1982. I was immediately mermerised by it, though not only, as others have likewise been affected, by the blunt first-hand subject matter, but also the accomplishment of its artful composition.

Because Trower is noted as a "logging poet", those not intimately familiar with his work fire up the assumption machine, the cogs working overtime to mesh with the ready conclusions: "he's an amateur" --(what poet isn't?) -- "unsophisticated as to finer detail and feeling" --(i.e. he doesn't moon over twilight and silence in three hundred poems over four books and ten years) -- "unaware of modern thrusts in poetry" -- (he doesn't write hermetically about poetic composition, and so doesn't automatically bore to death anyone not a poet, and many perceptive ones who do write verse) -- "buried in his own world" -- (some of the greatest poets of the twentieth century wrote largely out of their own experiences, but their material transcended any one-dimensional reading of the events transcribed) -- and to sum up: "a rube" (usually used as a contrast to an "academic" or "teacher" of whatever stripe).

First off, it's a wrong tag, even leaving aside the asinine presumptions. Trower's best book, Ragged Horizons, (1978), contains 50 poems, only 16 of which directly involve logging or lumber related experiences. I enjoy just as much the non-logging efforts. And what a delight is the variance in subject matter among those poems: concentrated elegies and lyrical sonorities about individuals in bars, hospitals, on streets and in rooming houses; love poems; natural description with finely interwoven metaphysics; existential musings and anguished self-identity.

The accumulated experience of Trower's poems create a personal, strong stamp whereby a reader is confident that when specific tropes are used, they are accurate and vividly sensed. The raven in "The Ravens" is imagistic wonder and metaphor, ironic messenger and metonym, and it doesn't take a ten year manic scrutiny of European and Egyptian mythic excavation (ala Ted Hughes) to decipher the clues. Furthermore there is a respectful distance between the narrator's observer (largely autobiographical) and that which is observed. I say respectful because there's a humble admission that other humans, and especially animals, are mysterious to the isolated, subjective individual, no matter what spiritual authority is advanced. This is where Hughes (again) and Tim Lilburn (and others) get into so much trouble. Especially in Lilburn's (up to now) mid-career poems, the narrator merges with animals, not even as first-person/animal mouthpiece, but as undifferentiated soul and physical embodiment. This is nonsense, and reminds me of (on video) a starry-eyed interviewer who once asked the Dalai Lama what the nature and quality of his (the interviewer's) soul was. The Tibetan adept laughed good-naturedly, with surprise that such a question could be pondered, and said, "I don't know".

This is not to say that Trower simply trudges the ground of simple description, however harrowing or otherwise interesting it may be. Experience these words of his from "The Ghosts":

"like lavender cadavers
in mothballed leather coffins.
Trapped in the old enigma
I drift through the vague rooms
of the house that no one remembers
where one letter comes that is always black."

That is Vallejo-like in its frightening otherwordly reminiscence.

I happened to stumble across an MA thesis on the Web (don't have the link right now) which sheds some biographical light on why Trower may have been left out of the contemporary canon. The gentleman (again, sorry for not recalling the name at the moment) maintained that even though Trower eventually kibbitzed with Acorn, P. Lane, and Purdy, all working-class poets with prominence and received respect, even adoration, he was (and still is) neglected because of the aforementioned "rube" factor. Purdy and Acorn had easily-seen ties to the "common man" (whoever the hell that is), but they could also stud their lines with references to D.H Lawrence, French symbolism, John A. MacDonald, and Trotsky. Funny, I don't remember Thomas Hardy throwing in casual allusion (not that Purdy et al operate that way) to impress. But when it comes to Trower's modus operandi, such a ploy would be inorganic and unneccessarily jarring, and it would deplete the power of first-person grappling with personal experience.

I can't remember the rest of the MA thesis argument on this point, but my own view is that Trower is more of a curiosity than a figurehead -- grudgingly given a little more pull and admiration than initially -- because he entered his best writing years at the wrong time, which is to say when Warren Tallman, George Bowering, and the rest of their nauseous acolytes were gaining favour among their cornered (both physically and authoritatively) students. Trower (of the same geography) is not a composer of metapoetics. Wallace Stevens was a great poet in that line -- his career was based on it -- but it takes a great poet to break foundations and set up his or her own house. When I read other poets' cliquish, clever, half-smirking lines on "the compositional poetic life", I'm more than a little annoyed. It's directly analogous to going to a symphony concert and listening to the conductor regale you in minute detail with how the composer constructed the movements. Play the fucking music already!

Thankfully, Trower knew better. And judging by the response he has received to his live readings (which I've experienced), his listeners and readers do, as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

From the "Letters of Ted Hughes"

"[N]ot a few poets have toyed with the conviction that if they were given the chance, they could create a superior sort of liturgy -- more incantatory, more verbally evocative. ...

But this attitude ignores that chief characteristic of poetry -- that the spirit of it refuses to be directed." (p. 458.)

"But for most readers of poetry, I fancy, that spiritual life of sorts, that substitute, it may be, is quite enough. So what most poets offer -- an eccentric, home-made, semi-mystical system of images, cadences and luminous experiences, leads, in a spiritual sense, nowhere, but does serve a need. ...

[J]ust a reminder that there is more to the world than the street, the office and the garden." (p. 461.)

--from "Letters of Ted Hughes", (2007), selected and edited by Christopher Reid.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Robyn Sarah's "Little Eurekas"

The most intriguing entry, to me, in Sarah's collection of reviews, essays, and assorted correspondence was her email conversation with Dennis Lee and Robert Bringhurst when discussing the pitfalls and potentialities of "polyphonic poetry". I've always been fascinated by the subterranaean linkage of poetry with music. There are many structural similarities: organic ordering with choices of prominence, shading, repetition; thematic statement with variations; mood and pacing shifts; rhythmic play; contrasts in dynamics; and on and on. But music, not being burdened with having to deal with overt meaning, can nevertheless create differing emotions simultaneously with major and minor keys, instrumentation, through composition, infusing subtleties into all corners of a soundscape.

Sarah and Bringhurst discuss the latter's experiments with poetic polyphonic composition, and though the talk gets bogged down in the historical linguistic arguements over what the musical term has meant, I can understand the problems inherent in the experiments and sympathize with their similar passions in the process. (I was surprised neither brought up American classical composer Charles Ives' "carnival" symphony. I don't think that experiment works, but it's fascinating to think what may be done with a more polished and talented ordering in that line.)

What interests me much more, though, is something quite different, and which I found largely missing from the back-and-forth. Polyphonic experiment was often described as simultaneous voices, with a subordinate interest in consecutive polyphony. But there was no mention of polyphonic colouring with one voice simultaneously. Sarah rightly brought up Berryman's Dream Songs, but again, this just emphasizes that even multiple, highly contrasting voices have to be broken by sequence, no matter how wrenched, tight, and creative the syntax is (and Berryman was a groudbreaking syntactical genius).

The only way I can presently see clear to a breakthrough in one-voice-simultaneous polyphony is for heightened, contrasting, and multiple meanings of words themselves, rather than separate voices with different narratives, moods, and so on. Of course, poetry at its best has always called upon multiple meanings in its diction, but usually in the context of a single consistent voice with a particular story or thought. I'd welcome a correction on this, but if Sarah and Bringhurst are seeing such difficulty (and it is difficult) with multiple voice and consecutive voice polyphony, I can't imagine much historical evidence for single-voice-simultaneous polyphonic poetry. And I don't know how possible it is, never mind its effectiveness. In this as in other areas, music has the last note.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Len Gasparini's "Selected Poems"

Len Gasparini's 1993 Selected Poems encases his best material from earlier volumes. Gasparini is a firm believer in marinating the juice of composition in a long-cooked stew before offering it for sampling. And it pays off. Like any collection, even a Selected, some poems work better than others. But there are very few clunkers in the book.

Disclosure: I know Len (though we haven't corresponded for years) and so don't proffer objectivity (which doesn't exist anyway). And I was excited by the poetry before I met the man.

Gasparini's range is wide, which might be a surprise for those who know his obsessions primarily through his short stories. When anyone writes of personal travesties in dark bars, rooming houses, and roadside diners, the temptation is to put the narrow bars of "confessional angst" around his or her efforts. In Gasparini's case, as with others he reminds me of (in different ways), this view is both premature and uninformed.

The long career of this underrated Canadian poet has seen subtle and blunt lyrics spanning the bawd, God, and sod; punks, skunks, monks, and funks.

A few snippets from a wide range of poems and subject matter:

"I forget the actual number of editors
Slumped over desks, pumped full of poems.
Rejection slips were their death warrants." --from "I Was a Poet for the Mafia"

"She pressed her lips against the glass
But left no breath.
Soundless words she mouthed.
I felt like a ventriloquist,
On a street of death." --from "Mannequin"

"Yesterday I should have taken her diary,
Said something cruelly apropos;
But the engagement ring on her wormwhite finger
Contained my hate in embryo." --from "Written on a Paper Napkin"

"His finger resembled
A crimson asparagus tip." --from "The Accident"

"A phantom Daphne embraced by branches.
If suicide is a spurious valor,
To die alone in a tree

Transcends all knowledge of good and evil." --from "Elegy"

".... antlered elk
Drinking the summer moonlight from a mountain stream
That sang in its stony bed." --from "Wyoming"

" .... There is a tremor

Of genitals, like sea anemones
Sucked at by an undertow." --from "Adult Entertainment"

"You pop a Valium
And feel its white fuzz
Floating your nerves
Like a parachute." --from "After the Divorce"

"A titmouse whistled. Caw! cried a crow.
Chirrup cheree! preached a vireo." --from "Mockingbird"

The range is impressive. But what is more impressive is the authority of experience which informs every line. And speaking of every line, Gasparini's poetry has the mark that separates quality from dross: every word has the feel of being the right one in the right place. It quickly gives the reader confidence that an honesty of form and meaning informs the construction.

What the reader also quickly recognises is that, in a retrospective tome covering decades, a fascination and deep involvement with people is prevalent. Gasparini's poems are choc-a-bloc with friends, acquaintances, family members, strangers in bizarre circumstances, historical/literary mentors, and Jesus as flesh-and-blood sufferer, not as vague and warm idea. I can't begin to rave about how refreshing this simple fact is to me. It should be commonplace for poets to not only infuse their poems with all sorts of people -- noble to despicable -- but to do so in an idiosyncratic and passionate revelation. But Canadian versifiers, in the aggregate, prefer the regurgitations of the nebulous narrators' spirit; the deaths of animals; the redrawing, as pale fiction, of famous figures from the past; the colouring of nature in emotive terms ala Ruskin's pathetic fallacy; and the "safe" working, via anthropomorphic anemia-deflectors, of grandiose OR modest mythic suggestiveness. In other words, poetry as a retreat from life (at worst), or a half-life of cloistered spiritual wisdom (at best).

Gasparini's rhythms are subtle, and it's easy on a first read to downgrade any thrill with a feeling that the narrative progression is simple, even breezy. The sound-patterning, though, is pleasing, thought-out, organic, and complementary to the emotion of the experiences related. ("Under wet black umbrellas/The bewildered immigrants/Huddle together/Holding their heavy luggage" --from "Union Station:Toronto").

If one were to try to decipher a "thematic undercurrent" in Gasparini's poetry, it would be the daily and constant struggle to become or remain human in a world seemingly mocking and/or belligerent in its attempts to deny that possibility.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Ass He Is"

One more parody. This one's on W. H. Auden's "As He Is".


Wrapped in a Gas Station flag beside
The flower's noiseless foot-odor,
Close to tree's bark like a sailor's rectal hide,
Close to the bird's phlegmatic schnozzer,
Loud in his dementia and clotted dorsal hair,
Erect like a secret porn-decoder,
Stands the oppressive tosser,
Stands the tree corn-holer.

Beneath the hot tobasco stain,
Past puzzled beasts who linger
He picks his nose, he can't abstain
With swizzle-stick and toothpick,
With whittling stick and fern-branch,
With arrow and index finger,
He finds a crusty, it makes him sick,
And he feels like a country singer.

The friendless and unhated sap
Licks his nose and cries in his beard
And falls to the ground and has a nap,
The botched One in the airless dale
Whose family have taught him
To fret and swoon till he's really skeered,
The timely fool with skin so pale
As he snores like a babboon so weird.

For this one's fading hopes become
The scraps for a dull wife in the pantry
Who dolls herself up, emphasizing bum,
But she won't betray him, oh no,
For his harem is dry as a termite's ass,
So she puts on her floppy panties
And waits for him in the bedroom, ho ho,
Her gelatinous posterior in thong so scanty.

He keeps on snoring by the deadwood tree
By pious breath now gurgling
As he opens bloodshot eyes and cannot see
The sun so quick to setting,
While his wife knits her pubic hair into the shape
Of Captain Kangaroo, but someone's burgling
The house, now I'm betting
Soon she'll be cooing in passionate burbling.

"New Year's Say"

(spoofing Robert Lowell's "New Year's Day")

Again in a vat of gin, the year is born
In lace and turpentine, and it will never do
To squat behind the wood-stove in leather chaps
To hear the French maid blowing my pulsing horn
When my thin conduit of spermicidal ice flows through.
Who can understand one who, from this, gets the clap?
One with another, each to all fails the test
Of abstaining while staring at the double-barrelled chest.

To steal Flintstone vitamins from the victims, ha!
The kitten heaved a furball -- face of Henry Kissinger --
Then died. We put her remains in a cigar box
And prayed all night, then danced the cha-cha-cha
Until the snake-coiled sea-winds said, "I'm missing her--
The one who keeps her box shut tight in double locks".
Wait for St. Peter, and give him a cauliflower ear
So's he can howl while getting me a wheat-based beer.

Swell! The swells thrum like vertigo'd bric-a-brac
Where Joseph plucks his dentures from their parapets
And hears the fateful Champs d'Elysses prick
(A circumcision). O take me off the rack!
And wear me while Jesus howls. We met
In a five-and-dime while lawyers wept. Sick,
They upchucked debentures and last year's bonds
While, sly and subtle, I peeked from mushrooming fronds.