Friday, April 29, 2011

William & Kate Divorce

Breaking news:

In a stunning development, Prince Bill and Kute Kate have divorced after three hours of marriage. Royal interlopers and plants have appeared and converged on the media (more coverage than the first day of Shawk 'N' Awe) to explain the scandal. Apparently, the male compliment complained his princess had widened her smile so much during the wedding that "beavers descended on our consummation bed, their rutting flappers smashing my left temple to a point past concussion and into indentation a la Linus."

Not to be upstaged, Kate countered her new photo-op stand-by had "been spied talking to a tampon in the men's WC post-I do and muttering 'Camilla was on to something, now only if it could say something intelligent' ".

More details to follow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Of Roads Rather Not Travelled

Walking home from a groceries excursion, the ravine stink was sharp and constant until I made my way to the other side of the highway and on through a better stretch of road and trail, then sidestreet. But before leaving the highway, the familiar sight of brave blue, yellow, and red rectangular boards had popped up like mutant daffodils or flags at low mast. Elect or re-elect, then genuflect. Kindly be influenced by this reminder, peon, and march to the ballot box. The nose-holding went on, unabated.

The other night I watched part one of the American Civil War re-run on PBS. A Lincoln quote -- "I would rather be assassinated than see a single star removed from the American flag" -- reminded me, by somber contrast, of our current lie-with-a-smile season, and to that shameful episode not long ago when post-election Stephane Dion and Jack Layton formed a coalition with Duceppe.

Revisiting the ravine or trundling off to the poll booth. What to do, what to do ....

Gary Geddes' Swimming Ginger

If I could have any one poetry blog-review of mine redone *, it would be last July's assessment of Gary Geddes' Falsework. Though I haven't changed my mind about it's uneven construction, I vastly underestimated its powerfully etched character studies and psychological perspicacity.

These are the dangers of reviewing a book fairly soon, even after several readings. Good books tend to grow on one, while the bad books become even more irksome if they're engaged with again.

Geddes' 2010 poetry collection Swimming Ginger, also a re-enactment of historical record in multiple voices and perspectives, consolidates the strengths of his previous Second Narrows Bridge narrative while avoiding the more egregious stumbles of cadence and syntax in that book. That said, the creative energies transferred to these imaginative Chinese characters still have the look and process of mere reportage, at times -- ("In pre-dawn hours a traveller was stabbed/near West Gate, a dispute over money/or a woman" from "Silk River") -- but the fullness and motivation of the monologues win out.

Part of the problem with detailed narratives in poetry is that an author usually tries to shoehorn fascinating tidbits of information into a vessel not always amenable to the operation. Geddes, though, much more so here than in Falsework, has allowed himself to create enjoyably disparate stories out of the speculation on those shadowy figures in the Qingming Shanghe Tu scroll from the (assumed to be) 12th century. Though knowledge of the inner lives of these people is obviously more of a challenge -- linguistically, culturally, temporally -- Geddes has the benefit of speaking for a wide cross-section of the roiling masses as depicted in the scroll. And it's here that a cohering thematic is most fascinating, stitching these differences under an umbrella of quietly subversive class warfare, Geddes typically giving voice to those otherwise unheard, and hence, unknown. The book is saturated with people struggling to make a few (what today would be called) yuan, while simultaneously attempting to keep their sanity. Sometimes it's to comic effect ("his wineglass extended. Drink up, I say,//pouring the liquid on his head, I take pleasure/where I find it, too." from "Magpiety") ; sometimes it's for unassuming pathos ("chock-a-block/with bric-a-brac, I'm at a loss for words." (from "Knackered").

When many reviewers talk about a return to narrative in contemporary poetry, they often just mean a turn towards more elaborate or transparent anecdote. But Geddes isn't afraid of telling a story, complete with (shock!) political and historical context, and doing so without simply using it as a background excuse for ideologies of any and all corner(s). Others draw from that well, too -- Asa Boxer comes to mind -- but where suggestion is concerned, it's delightful to have it linked to a breathing representative of this amazing globe, even if the emotions imparted to him or her are conjured and assumed.

* I find it despicable and cowardly that some bloggers find it no great shakes to alter or even delete entire posts for various reasons -- image; cultural correctness; political positioning; correction for abuse of facts -- when doing so invalidates anything they may say in the future (will this post be "edited" when propitious for the author?, the reader rightly wonders). Some may counter that poets themselves do this when they revise and publish alternate versions of some poems or even entire books. There's a huge difference: the original efforts by a Robert Lowell or Marianne Moore are forever on display, and the revisions, sometimes decades after the fact, as often as not serve to highlight the inferior work (not transcend or obliterate it) just as much as causing us to forget about it altogether.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Geoffrey Hill

After reading Geoffrey Hill's quartet of books -- Canaan (1996); The Triumph of Love (1998); Speech! Speech! (2000); The Orchards of Syon (2002) -- my head ached, expanded, and juddered like Pavarotti's prostate after a high colonic performed by a sadistic fireman with a supertower pressure-hose. If that's slightly hyperbolic, remember that Pavarotti played a sublime tune through his higher cylinder (pre-three Amigos) even under physical stress.

It's become a long-running gripe that the high-modern tag team of Pound and Eliot not only brought back difficulty into their poetry practise and prescription, but introduced skull-busting incomprehensibility. And Hill, like those two and others they influenced, won't amplify a point with, say, a symbol from nature when an arcane suggestion about a little-known fourteenth century mystic can replace it. But Hill isn't a sadist, despite the "you figure it out, riff raff!" glower from the back page photo, at least not in his fundamental intentions, if I may be so bold as to imagine chasing the secretive overactive neurons in his noggin. He knows a lot of stuff 'n' things -- eh? -- and why shouldn't he use the full range of his referential arsenal? Oh I know, to "better communicate". But in this case, when the sonic architecture is so rich, sense really is an added bonus, a surfeit already beyond the bounty of the rhythms and syntactical collisions issueing from "the fieldstone, intricately veined and seamed;/moss, lichen, dobbed with white crut of birds" (from 48. in Speech! Speech!) and "Pigeon-mobbed, on the play-patch, my own/public madman hurls at the laden air/his archive of bagged injustice." (from 69. in The Orchards of Syon).

And in order to deal with the 'high path with no rail' meditation on human nature, including responsibility and guilt and complicity for the horrors of the twentieth century, and for the possibilities and limitations for what lay before us, the author must have an enormous back range of incriminating evidence to deliver the convincing though queasy judgements he proffers for historical figures, contemporary wanderers, readers, and himself: "Suppose I cannot/unearth what it was they buried: research/is not anamnesis" (from 67. in The Triumph of Love). The path is extremely difficult, but there is a finish line, or at least a provisional brightly-coloured rest stop ..... somewhere.

Some critics have -- at times -- seen a cautious or muted hope in these poems, one reviewer going so far as to call the last book in this series, The Orchards of Syon, Hill's "Paradiso". Now that's just wishful-thinking, understandable as an apposite feint after the anguish and severe vision of what's been imaginatively enacted. But hope is not a word to be associated with Hill, and I, for one, am relieved, after reading poem upon poem of soul-scouring honesty, that that's the cause-effect recording. When the subjects are historical human proclivity, and present and future psychological unfolding, hope is a disease, a pernicious and agreeable defense against the mirror and the mind.