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This article was published 24/2/2018 (1150 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Aaron Tucker’s Irresponsible Mediums: the chess games of Marcel Duchamp (BookThug, 120 pages, $18) was actually written by a computer app called The ChessBard that Tucker created in collaboration with Jody Miller.
The ChessBard takes the moves in a chess game and translates the game into poetry using a series of poetic templates and source-text poems written by Tucker.
(You can go to chesspoetry.com to play/write with the app.)
Tucker takes the artist Marcel Duchamp’s chess career as the basis for the poems.
This move treats Duchamp’s chess-playing as an artistic practice and the poems become a strange meditation on creativity itself.
Our human creativity makes both chess and poetry possible, and yet we’ve already ceded superiority in chess to the machines.
When might they take over poetry? The ChessBard already tells us that "weather erects temptation and machine" — when might its million monkeys crank out Shakespeare?
Shannon Bramer’s Precious Energy (BookThug, 72 pages, $18) is her first full-length book in over a decade and offers a sad, strange suite of poems that range across everything from fish sticks to Lego to towels to breastfeeding to cancer.
Through it all, Bramer’s elegant lines crackle with real verve.
"Going home the small icy way you said to hurt her / She walked away he could see her open / You didn’t understand and then wanted / Did you dream about her again yes did she call" — these lines rush past while stopping firmly and the ultimate effect is of interruption. The final lines see the speaker’s partner pushing a child away, "so I could cook / Dinner properly."
The whole poem displays that the way things are said, and the environment that alters how things are said, affects the meaning by adding a dark complexity that the speaker might not intend.
Bramer’s poems often work like this, renewing their subjects with the uncommon angle of her approach.
Erin Robinsong’s Rag Cosmology (BookThug, 104 pages, $18) is a startling debut that combines an ecological interest with fragmentary, falling lines.
"O my friends & associates / night is falling from a singing bird’s bright anus / I’ve lain my head in warm currencies // sporophyllic mouth light in the velvet / of a woman cruising a general doom" — Robinsong’s "nature poems" are nothing like the bland predecessors in the tradition (check out that "bird’s bright anus" — LOL, as the kids say).
At their best, Robinsong’s lines recall those of Lisa Robertson, offering philosophical statements as poetic lines, but with more wryness: "the green deserts are seen, fire / is on TV, fire fills the rectangular pulsating apocalypse over the bar / in the restaurant where everyday I eat the kale salad of how real this is / A fire alarm rings deep inside the fire / that everyone is extremely vulnerable and it’s not really in that haha kind of way."
Gillian Sze’s Panicle (Misfit/ECW, 104 pages, $19) offers poems that often meditate on looking — at tableaux, at calligraphy, at mirrors — and in their "tentacled dark / a moth is wrapped in webbing / salted for a stricken hour."
That image encapsulates both Sze’s style and method, trying to fix the beautiful ephemeral by wrapping it in fine, fragile lines, then setting against a muscled melancholy in order to elicit our awe.
"They say that when you are having trouble falling asleep, / you are actually awake in somebody else’s dream."
Sze’s fifth book reconfirms this former Winnipegger’s stunning talent.
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.