Photos by Warren Dean Fulton
Photoshop recreations & unwitting modeling by Catherine Owen
Which recalls to me this prose poem I wrote some years ago, now in my manuscript Yclept:
2 inches. All the water we were allowed in the tub. My father’s orders.
Four of us, aged 3-10, bleached sugar peas in our porcelain pod, shoulders
& thighs stuck together, small buttocks dipped with water like the tips of Dairy Queen cones,
the kind we were bought once a year as a bribe following the family photo session
at Brown’s on Kingsway. We could never luxuriate. He wouldn’t permit such wastefulness.
The water wasn’t even hot, but a pissy-warm puddle we crouched in, slathering cloths
swiped with thin ridges of soap over our limbs, slapping the cotton squares against spines & knees,
damp flags of cleanliness. Our mother officiated at the bath, here squidging a comma of Johnson’s No
More Tears shampoo onto a plastered down scalp, there slopping a plastic cup of water over a frothy head in her skint
benediction. Though at the end of bath time she would drape a towel over her lap
and the younger ones would leap into that soft pocket, a plush & highly coveted moment, this
was meager consolation. Even our rubber duck was grim, its yellow promise never allowed
to bob, jammed as it was among our collective feet, moored. When, years later, I traveled to Turkey
it was to learn how to yield to water. On my first day in Cappadocia, I sought out a hammam where, for 25 Euros, a woman
wearing a white kerchief and pure apron washed me. Languishing on a heated stone in the Sicaklik as she squeezed a
cheesecloth of minty suds over my prone body, I became a child again, at least that fantasized child I had never been, who
could eat as much as she desired without a careful doling out, wear the clothes she longed for, indifferent to budget, sink
into the endless depths of hot water without guilt. Just for awhile anyway. “Cok guezel,” the woman murmured, her olive gaze
drenching me where I lay. Yes indeed. So beautiful. As the water dripped down upon me, unskimpingly, into the light.
Randomly, I decided to pick two books to review from Biblioasis and it is these, one from 2013, the other from 2009, both obsessed by rhythm with differing considerations of context and with forms that seek to be a vehicle for their content.
1/Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway – Alexandra Oliver
I must say, it surprised me to see Oliver listed as a “new voice” on the front of her bee-spackled book, and a “new formalist sensation” on the back, seeing as how she has been publishing and reciting poems in one form or another since around the time I initially met her, when we were mere infants, reciting for the Burnaby Writers’ Society’s Poets Under 25 event in about 1994, and her first book came out, albeit in the UK, in 2007. But such are blurbs, those desperate for attention beasts. Oliver’s poems, crisp, at times sing-songy, Philip Larkinesque, rhyming, mannered, smart, continental and often quite droll, are usually hits in performance, the main place I’d been exposed to them prior. On the page, they are both bop and oops, something that could be noted for any collection perhaps, but because Oliver uses rhyme schemes so regularly, the oopsies are more due to the fact that every kind of subject matter isn’t suited, in my opinion, to a similar scansion & stress (do dee do dee do dee do dee do dee do), than to any lack in Oliver’s ear, which is, mostly, bang-on.
It’s a slim little text, but the poems are so compressed, it’s a perfect length and I counted 11 poems I would return to of about 45, not a low figure really. Among these: “A Child’s Christmas in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” with its well-crafted revelations about the Partizan Santa, Deda Mraz, the list of misdemeanors in “Curriculum Vitae” (O these lines are meaningful to me: “This is how you last,/they tell me, cut the sparking fuse;/a woman doesn’t get too many chances/I wonder if respectable means right:/I’m waiting to be rescued by my doubt,” the villanelle on the death of parents, “Taking Care,” the sweetly ingenious, “The Toy Catalogue of the Afterlife,” “Modern Camera’s” biting Brit-style humour (“This is the setting for blood & ablution/And this button here is the one that you press/when shooting yourself is the only solution”), the rare oft-iambic poignancy of “A Serbian Man in a Bar Said” (“This is the beast you see when you are sleeping: / a stag….the red cloud clears,/then you wake up weeping”) and the super funny death wish of “Final Request” (“Please put me in the muumuu that I bought…the one you hate…I’ve often thought/I’d leave you in a good, embarrassed state…so nothing would be strange.”) Though the pieces are described as “cinematic visions,” they didn’t seem especially marked as suburban movie clips to me, apart from their regular dips into film noir tonalities, but more like slightly sour (but not unpleasantly so) rotund bonbons, accurately shaped, but sometimes a tad too sproingy going down.
2/Meniscus – Shane Neilson
Even though Neilson’s first book is from 2009 and thus not a new release (and so what), I wanted to review it anyway (as I may in the future Elise Partridge’s Fielder’s Choice or Jeramy Dodd’s Crabwise to the Hounds or other gems requiring refreshing in our tiny public’s memory). Meniscus is striking with its textured cover of messy intestine cassette tape feed, the innards chopped into four sections of elegy, insanity, injury and adoration, the 1st and 4th sequences being the most stirring and stick in the gut.
Neilson’s rhythms are usually quite sophisticate and slant; witness the opening lyric, “Recovery” where visits rings with shrinks, went with absent and the piece concludes with the ache of slow epiphany, “I surveyed three barren years/and saw a poem, flaring there.” And the flare of these cuttingly delineated poems is fierce, snared in the deep need to translate a father’s brutality as he snaps his wife’s wrists during a fight (No Ring), thrashes his son in Beaten-Down Elegy (“I cough red /and grab time. The breath again and he’s there, throwing bales/the thump of wet hay on wet hay”) and then, at the end, weakens, along with the paternal lineage of farmers into “one collective sigh” (This is not a Rural Poem). The loveliest lines in the book might be in this segment: “Is there sorrow? If I look it may be/creation” (For my Father).
But the punchiest kapows of sound are in the last part on love – “Love like piss on a hot stove,/like Jumpin’ Jehosephat and Snorting Nicodemus” (Love Life), “The hings of or/, the sulk of not…Your back does not balk;/it has no non” (Just Saying), “the syllable – /a lollygag terror, a long slow gurgle…for all the rictus cheer, there is the velvet taint of roses” (Love Poem), and “Love was forgotten/ and bastardized and/flecked and fucked, we/woke and fell and fell/again” (Rebound). And again a moving moment: “I pray that I won’t instruct you in pain” (Prayer). The parts on bipolar states and brain seizures are less communicable I think, possibly too fraught with equivalent media scenarios the mind unwittingly replays. Still, strong utterances here like Bird Men (“Drained/ wallets strain against seat seams….men stretch arms/into albatross wing spans”), There is No Cure, MRI with the body in the machine “a harvest/of grains and tubers/in the long, magnetic season” and Bedside Delirium: Family Visit. An echoing of Pete Trower, Alden Nowlan and Al Pittman while being relentlessly itself, Meniscus sings bleeps & grinds & mellifluous witnessings to loss.