October 23, 2020

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Capitalism the target of biting collection

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2014 (2190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Louis Cabri's Posh Lust (New Star, 86 pages, $18) resembles a compost heap of poetic language. Cabri's primary target is neo-liberal capitalism, which is happy to destroy the world for you as long as you fill out its satisfaction survey: "Most Satisfying Rubble: / (a) chunks (b) dust."

In response, Cabri refuses the traditional lyrical subject, viewing "I" as "a necessary figment" that poetry propagandizes. Self-indulgently pointing out this self-indulgence in the poetic tradition, Cabri seems skeptical of poetry's possibility for political resistance, outside of its ability to draw attention to our language and its politics.

The poem Huron Church Road simply reads "in sequence like that" to suggest a disturbing dynamic at play in our willingness to lay a road and build a church over the bones of the Huron as long as we "respect" them with the proper signage. At the same time, it suggests chronological sequence: first the Huron, then a church, now this road -- nothingness and capitalism win. Smart, sometimes silly, and always biting, Cabri's poems are poetic products par excellence.

Derek Beaulieu's Kern (Les Figues, 92 pages, $17) presents a suite of visual poems, crafted by hand using dry-transfer lettering, a non-computer process used "in graphic design, technical drafting and advertising from the early 1960s to early 1990s." The resulting visual poems are intended by Beaulieu as "logos and slogans for... impossible businesses," corporations that never existed, advertisements for inscrutable products.

While many of the poems seem precisely that, others sprawl like tentacled life forms -- degraded, as if by age, rather than dated, frozen in a time that never was. Still others seem like maps of alien worlds, cities of language.

Beaulieu has a startling talent for producing letter patterns that seem somehow natural fits. Despite their stark artificiality, they seem somehow natural and inevitable. In this way, too, the poems operate like visual meditations on corporate transformation of our physical and psychic landscapes.

Mike Spry's Bourbon & Eventide (Snare/Invisible, 60 pages, $15) presents the personal mythology of a failed couple in a sort of prose-poem-novel composed of tercets (three-line stanzas). The form itself emphasizes an addition to a couple(t) -- a third thing that comes of their union, of their breaking apart, or between them.

Spry uses this simple conceit to great effect, often turning the poem in the third line to foreshadow the relationship's doom: "No matter how much he drank, she didn't show up at the bar. / He sent a drunk text to Betty, to make sure she knew he was still alive. / One to Veronica, too. Just in case." The subject matter has tremendous risks -- do we need any more poems about failed relationships? -- but Spry's formal approach lifts him above the fray.

Amanda Earl's Kiki (Chaudiere, 100 pages, $20) pays homage to the chaos of Montparnasse between the world wars, and its mythical status as a sex- and drug-fuelled artistic hotbed. The book and its first long poem takes its name from Alice Ernestine Prin, a.k.a. Kiki, a celebrity of the period often celebrated as either a muse or an artist herself.

Earl offers a portrait of Kiki that suggests her splendour while taking a tragic tone. A trip to New York finds her "small in the new world. I am Alice again down the hole. // I shrink. I cannot eat what says eat me. I can only drink until I am Kiki again. Until I am back through the shattered glass." Here, Earl alludes to Carroll, while elsewhere aping Burroughs. The diversity of Earl's style elevates her attractively dark imagery, for a rich and mythic tone to match its subject.


Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at www.JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.


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