amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dennis Cooley, the prairies and mythology building

the first book of Cooley’s i read was “the bentleys” (The University of Alberta Press, 2006).

the book is based on a novel called “As For Me and My House” by Sinclair Ros (thanks, Victoria for the correction :) and has a cover of an old prairie looking couple on the cover. i never read the Ross book and it’s only because the prairie poets are so prolific that i have started to read more about and savour what i read about the prairies. as a kid in grade school, the only prairie related text i’d been exposed to was Little House on the Prairie and i absolutely loathed it. when i was five my father drove us across Canada from Toronto to Lethbridge, Alberta and all i remember were the blackflies and my uncle’s giant automobile. i thought we were in Texas. all this to say that something with a prairie theme or a prairie attitude had a long way to go to make me pay any attention. that’s why when a writer gets my attention with anything to do with the prairies, it’s damn impressive to me.

i picked up “the bentleys” shortly after it came out, reading it from cover to cover over Christmas, 2006. i loved the various voices of the different characters. this, along with Robert Kroetsch’s “the Hornbooks of Rita K.” use this similar technique, which for want of a better term, i’m calling characterization. if i were more well read i would probably know that this technique goes back as far as Tennyson or the Ancient Greeks or something, but i’m not so i don’t.

i loved the spacing in this book, the variety of line breaks, the easygoing not high falutin’ language and the fact that it is the book that is the unit, rather than a series of unrelated or very subtly related poems. i go thru phases and right now i’m in a whole book phase.

another of Cooley’s poetry books that i’ve read is “Seeing Red” (Turnstone Press, 2003), his take on the various versions of vampires in books and movies. i loved his language in this book and the humour and the way he mixed up modern ideas with the age old Dracula tale. “Seeing Red” is a fun and inventive book and not blood sucking in the least.

since reading the above two books, i’ve dipped a bit into his other books, particularly Bloody Jack (Turnstone Press,1984) about wrestler and outlaw John Krafchenko. i have the original and not the reissued version with the intro by Douglas Barbour, put out in 2002. it’s fun the way Cooley combines all kinds of different styles of writing, including newspaper articles. a poem doesn't have to be linear and skinny, which is what i used to think for some reason now unknown to me. that’s one of the things i got from reading Dennis Cooley’s work.

there’s an issue of Prairie Fire, Volume 19, No 1 (Spring 1998) edited by Rob Budde and Debbie Keahey that you should get a hold of, a special issue on Dennis Cooley featuring essays and tribute poems.

also i recommend his excellent article in “Breaking and Entering (thoughts on line breaks).” Open Letter 6 (Spring 1987).

there’s also a great concordance/bibliography here.

i’ve always said that i don’t give a rat’s ass about gender, but i have to say that reading all of these male poets of late who have cultivated this beautiful mythology of writing about men makes me want to do the same for women. not because i feel there’s an imbalance or an injustice that needs to be righted, but because i think it’s fun to do. i guess i already have part of that going on with a lot of my own poetry (Eleanor, my first above /ground press chapbook, which puts Eleanor of Aquitaine into a modern setting; Ursula a mostly unpublished series about a homeless woman who has visions of Saint Ursula,“Kiki de Montparnasse” my work in progress about the artist and model who lived in Paris in the 20s and was the lover of Man Ray. So much of my writing apparently about women, real or invented, famous and historical figures and characters created out of the air, “The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman,” the latest chapbook of mine a long poem about a woman’s sexual conquest of men, even my erotic fiction, much of it an unapologetic enuciation of women’s desires.

writers like Dennis Cooley inspire me to consider creating & adding to the body of women’s mythology with my own writing. just because i can.

Dennis Cooley, along with Robert Kroetsch, Fred Wah and others will be at the U of O symposium re: reading the postmodern, including public readings which you should go to... and Fred Wah is also going to be at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on the 13th of April with Stuart Ross and Rachel Zolf.

oops...i seem to be blogging when i said i wouldn’t. i hope you’re happy, John ;)


John W. MacDonald said...


(desptite the fact that I have to type in "xrkydqax" as the godawful word verification thingy.)

Amanda said...

all hail the mighty xrkydqax

Amanda said...

something like a bandersnatch

Victoria said...

Hey Amanda,

It's Sinclair *Ross*, and not Stevens (whose claim to fame was Federal politics), who wrote "As For Me And My House."

Lorna Crozier, another "prairie" poet, also put out a book of poetry inspired by Ross's novel.



Pearl said...

Glad you'll keep with it longer. Good work John.

We definitely need more women's literature with woman as strong and capable and nuanced.

Lee said...

Hi, I've been searching for an email address for you but can't find one. I've got a question/request regarding “Breaking and Entering (thoughts on line breaks).” Would you mind emailing me? My address is on my profile - and feel free to delete this comment if you prefer!

Amanda said...

hi Lee, can't access your e-mail.
mine is amanda underscore earl at storm dot ca