Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday Mailbag #13

Apologies for the late mailbag entry. Canada Post employees went on a one day wildcat strike over the enforced introduction of non-hallucinatory envelope glue, but it's been rescinded, and resolved with extra days off for transient aphasia.

Dear Tribal Hack:

Al Purdy has often been called Canada's most popular, even most revered, poet. I notice you've said nothing about him in print, to date. Thoughts on the late idol?

-- Joy Carling

Dear Joy:

I quite like some of Purdy's work in 1965's Cariboo Horses. The shagginess is clipped at least a little, and it lent more force to the rhythm (often jarring, rarely musical) of his lines. But even in North Of Summer, only two years later, the offhanded tag-ons begin to accumulate, and he begins to lose me. Later Purdy I find abysmal.

But here's one of the funniest CanPo one-pagers I've read, Purdy's tribute to Ralph Gustafson during a poetic ambassadorial trip with the latter to the former Soviet Union. It's from his The Stone Bird, published in 1981:


Ralph. His poems opposite. To him.
At least the form. Gnomic?
Simple beliefs? Tough beliefs
-- tough to retain and nurture.
"Believe in nothing and poems." Not true.
"A gentle man," says Mark Pinchevsky.
Belief is gentle too. Sentimental?
Oh sometimes. If flowers and music are.
If love is. Love also is comic.
Is bone and blood. Is falling feather.
Useless? Well, subjective. Unstatistic.
Flowers and music. Chronicler of tag ends.
Notary of the unnoticed. Registrar of colour.
Wisdom? What's that? Who knows one?
Monk-scribble on sheep stomachs? Faith in blue
sky, goodness, cliches like banners:
our battered coffeepot brewing tea
in Sovietskaya Hotel, in Samarcand, Riga:
Betty in faded dressing gown fetching it:
he glances, absent, "Oh -- thank you."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Mailbag #12

Dear Tribal Hack:

I'm tamping the well-worn path of personal spiritual epiphany in a poem I'm currently composing. I'm trying to compare a monarch butterfly's wings with hope and lightness, but I'm afraid of the cliches and bathos in my attempts so far. Any ideas?

-- Ida B. Free

Dear Ida:

Didn't you write in a few months back requesting info on monster truck rally poem anthologies? In any event, what you need is, indeed, to deflect attention away from that most boring of poetic themes: the state of the speaker's (read: poet's) spiritual progression. Unless you're writing scintillating lines. Then it doesn't matter, and almost anything goes. But from the little you've given me here, I'd say to go for the jug, and then the jugular. Violence could be the way forward. The colonial madness of the Monarchy; Micrococcus brewing for decades to release the black death; cardenolides killing mice and grackles who think a thorax a non-threat; the long migration to San Luis Obispo where priests paste patterns of dusted gold over vestments. Whatever wayward direction your effort takes, at least kill the urge to transform the butterfly into an intercessor between you (if first-person speaker) and God. And remember the butterfly's first, and real, transformation. What? You thought you weren't enlightened?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Mailbag #11

Dear Tribal Hack:

In certain circles of lit crit, as well as in informal dialogues, I've lately noticed a disparagement of the comma, its overgenerous deployment, "roadblock to natural flow", and stylish pretension. Call me behind the times, but what brought this on? Seems petty. And ill-informed.

-- Dan DePause

Dear Dan:

I've also noted this. It's simply another avenue into snapped-shut claptrap, and away from the natural idiosyncrasies of unfolding thought. Thought itself is on trial. Or perhaps it's an insincere gambit, an academic make-work project, if you will. Intricate -- even serviceable -- construction is condemned as a holdover from patriarchal assumption, the sudden shifts in tone, subject, and dynamics a deflecting ploy, a smoke-and-mirrors display in order to dust alert corneal jiggles with chalkstick residue, the hypotactic vertigo an honour roll of borrowed authority, ideas as clauses, congestion as complexity, rhetorical overreach as vatic hammerlock, as tropes are ransacked for any quarklike hint of concrete plausibility, plain statement scuppered in a brew of appendages and spirochetes tapering into dendrites blowing free off a cliff recalling Wile E. Coyote that frozen moment mid-air when the eyes bulge and you realize the hens have all come home to roost, or to mangle comparables (else what's a meta-survey for?), the horses have all left the barn, those plain statements gaining unearned cachet through the overuse, misuse, abuse of that obtuse backwards-C curvature no writer with spine would ever cripple his or her prose with, and whose cheap separation by that one (now) not-so-humble abasing waver entire streams of illogic are compressed like a narrow dike battlement wedge, parapet sandbag on a driving river, or serpentine rat maze in a weir where the purl is all and the pearl non-existent, non-existent, yes, but the suggestion being sacrosanct, a stamp and promise, a block and hackle, a this and that of imperious crossbalk blackening the pages like crows on a white bedsheet in a Smithrite whose eggshell blue paint peels under a sun fixed and boring into the bin's contents like a magnifying glass burning the promiscuously jumbled detritus from the three-story firetrap, the residents hidden in a curlicue of stuttering neglect.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Mailbag #10

Dear Tribal Hack:

How will this end? A while ago a new kid on the block elbowed its way on to the CanPo scene: the niche anthology. At first this didn't seem to be much of a problem, and it actually made sense in some cases when the broad scope of "work poetry" or "love poetry" created easy access for general readers who otherwise mayn't have noticed the individual efforts. But lately I've been befuddled and annoyed by the bodily devolution of this option. I've chanced upon bowling poem anthologies (no, not a selected from Tim), Dennis Rodman poem anthologies, beer making poem anthologies, and black light gardening poem anthologies. What's your take on this runaway train?

-- Peg Squared

Dear Peg:

You don't talk about the quality of any of these poems in the tomes you outline. Remember, any subject is on-limits, or unlimited, if you will. What I'd like to see are more of these micro-niches combining their obsessions. For instance, a poem about Dennis Rodman stumbling into someone's black light garden at two in the morning after an all night bender may achieve tragic proportions. It's all in the handling, of course, but I don't see why an intrepid editor couldn't already find a hundred-page assembly of that sort. And good stuff, too, pared down from thousands of likeminded poems. Of course, a journal can simply make a call for that narrow subject through a theme issue. Much more interesting than a theme issue on "war" or "dreams". After all, if you're going to make restrictions, make it a challenge.