another loaner by a friend, the Fiddlehead is not a mag i’ve read in detail. this issue surprised me with no less than six poems that were tight, had great sound play, weren’t full of romantic stock imagery about nature and scored high on the whimsy scale.
i didn’t read the short fiction in the issue. i wanted to concentrate on the poetry.
New Zealander James Norcliffe has a good booze poem called “Hamlet nurses his beer.” when flipping thru a lit mag on a monday morning before the caffeine kicks in, what grabs your attention, what makes you stop and read? a catchy title helps. this guy mentions both Hamlet and beer and i’m drawn in from the get.
there’s an irreverent style to the poem, the kind of writing that kicks against the pricks and doesn’t hold kindly with namby pambyism. there’s some fine sound play in the piece, crispy line breaks and a wee bit of philosophical musing that suits the subject and enough allusion to Hamlet to please fans of the Bard. here’s a wee taste from the opening…
“It needs must be strong and black
from some honest microbrewery,
none of that Wittenberg weissbier;
that’s the sort of cat’s-paw cat’s piss
he would drink before he paws and
paddles at her roiling royal flesh.”
i was pleased to see a coupla poems by former Ottawan Andrew Faulkner in the issue. you’ll know Andrew as one half of the Emergency Response Unit, the small press in Toronto which he runs with Leigh Nash.
“Bar Fight” is a tight, amusing, saucy number that evokes for me the sound play, fresh imagery and syntactic shenanigans of Andrew’s former writing collaborator Marcus McCann. Marcus, Andrew and Nick Lea published a great chapbook a number of years ago together called the Basement Tapes.
Another Toronto poet, Tim Prior offers up an excerpt from his poem sequence “the jesuit relations” with his poem “la chaloupe (the boat). man this guy has cadence and timing skill. strong hard consonants, robust rhythms and effective use of repetition of syntactic structure. here’s a bit:
“this is the sturdy keep, these the curving ribs
this the pulled saw’s snarl, the keen edged plane
skimming curled shavings on the floor[…]”
and now for something that i found disturbing from M. Travis Lane’s review of The Essential Don Coles, selected by Robyn Sarah, the Porcupine’s Quill. and did i mention i like to be disturbed? i love it when writers and critics make pronouncements about the way poetry is supposed to be. i apologize for taking this out of context, but i can’t type in the whole review. to be fair to Ms. Lane, she uses examples from Coles’ poems to substantiate her argument.:
“At the moment writers in English range themselves across a perhaps wider spectrum of seriousness than ever before. If, on the one hand, we have all those splendid essays by contemporary Canadian poets on Poetry and Truth, or Revelation, or our proper Relation to Nature (a recent example: Anne Simpson’s beautiful Marram Grass), we have, on the other, the poets who win prizes and acclaim by refusing to be serious, who publish meaningless frivolities largely intended, I rather think, to make fun of the serious poets. A recent issue of Poetry is full of the unserious stuff, intended to be amusing, without emotional resonance, or beauty – topped by an arduously inscribed joke by Bök, a perfected example of an admirable poem nobody will ever want to memorize or weep over.”
question: who are all these writers writing about poetry and truth, yada yada? i would like to read Simpon’s Marram Grass though and thank Lane for pointing it out.
who are these dastardly unserious prize winners with their conspiracies to make fun of serious poets? how do you determine what is serious and what is not?
Lane has the answer:
“I admit that I often quite like some kinds of trivial poetry, light verse, or genial amusements. But there is a great difference between serious poetry and light verse. What makes a poem major is largely style (since a serious subject alone can’t do it), but style so focussed to the subject, the understanding, that the form and the subject are whole. And if it is to be a major poem, the subject must be taken seriously, even when it is taken lightly.”
major poems, serious poems. glad we have the arbiter of all this to straighten us out.
on the flip side, (and dare i say, the hopeful side?) take a listen to Christine McNair’s informative interview with Stuart Ross who talks about his new poetry imprint with Mansfield Press, about how he wishes there was more humour in current poetry, how he advocates for more goofiness and sees poetry as an adventure and a risk.
there were a number of poems in the spring Fiddlehead that were adventurous goofy risks. hallelujah for that. and these poems make me want to write my own. that’s one of my desires for poems, i want them to inspire me to write and to read more. not to memorize and weep over them like i would over the recently departed.
in his lectures published in the House that Jack Built, Jack Spicer talks about poetry as a disruptive force, something that comes not from heaven or god but from elsewhere, from across, not something to be held up on a pedestal but to be constantly questioned.