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This article was published 23/9/2017 (920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Derek Beaulieu’s a, A Novel (Jean Boite Editions, 488 pages, $42) erases the text of Andy Warhol’s important conceptual novel, a, to leave only — and thus highlight instead — its punctuation and sound effects.
These were the additions of the anonymous female transcribers who were arguably the novel’s true creators, and Beaulieu’s project constitutes something of a feminist rewriting and recuperation of the Warhol work.
Beaulieu is both a conceptual writer and a visual poet, and this erasure text — mostly waves of punctuation that is itself punctuated with oddly banal-but-poetic phrases (for example, out of nowhere we find "60-second pause and the sound of washing feet") — blends his two practices beautifully.
Although many conceptual writers (such as Kenneth Goldsmith) say you don’t actually need to read conceptual writing, they are wrong.
Beaulieu’s text nicely displays why. Startling literary effects that should not be possible — in this case, a strange sort of suspense — are created through unlikely methods and in a manner that speaks to literature’s true methods and value.
It’s Beaulieu’s best work and a necessary addition to any library of experimental art.
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The poems in Spencer Gordon’s Cruise Missile Liberals (Nightwood, 80 pages, $19) survey political, corporate and pop-culture landscapes (so often now one and the same) and comment sadly on their devastation, while never forgetting how great Taylor Swift used to be.
The poem I Hate Poetry nicely encapsulates the tone through its own metaphor for poems: "many lidless terrors / pressed together in perfect-bound volumes."
Another poem begins with the truism, "More people believe a wafer / becomes the body of Christ / than a slick strip of bacon / comes screaming from a pig."
Another poem sums things up this way: "If there’s two things I’ve learned, / it’s that we are alone, and God hates poor people."
Things Were Better When You Were On Fire is the title of another poem and that line captures both the disturbing, wry intelligence of the book as well as its taut, careful craft.
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Jennifer LoveGrove’s Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes (BookThug, 88 pages, $18) combines striking, surrealistic imagery with the language that surrounds mental-health diagnoses, treatments and stigma.
The title poem offers strange, dreamlike scenes interrupted by paranoid outbursts to present a speaker struggling to navigate a parent’s psychosis.
"I apprentice myself to the sand / and all its fervent ambitions: / how to smooth away splinters / how to stop a flood from creeping closer / how to melt into something sharp and clear and hard / how to hold the walls together / how to be a castle full of rooms / how to be the desert."
Other writers might do well to apprentice themselves to LoveGrove’s dark, dense lines.
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Juliane Okot Bitek’s 100 Days (University of Alberta Press, 112 pages, $20) takes as its subject the Rwandan genocide, using the event to consider war in a broader sense and meditate on its horror.
"This is the horror that did not turn you into stone," she writes, seemingly shocked.
Throughout the poems, the incomprehensible nature of the genocide persists as a theme, as does the incomprehensible manner in which the world continues on: "look / ... glad as a cemetery / the river."
A disturbing meditation on war and its brutality, as well as the need to turn face to its nightmare.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.