amongst books

amongst books

Friday, November 19, 2010

been shed bore by Pearl Pirie

In been shed bore (Chaudiere Books, 2010), Pearl Pirie shows herself to be a keen listener and observer of people: their speech patterns, their conversations, tones, gestures, and language. She samples from life and from the written and spoken word.

In a series of seven poems entitled “working at parse purposes” throughout the book, Pirie takes words and phrases from a variety of contemporary poems and uses them as springboards for her own poetry. She then creates poems around these source texts. What Pirie does here is a variety of “plunderverse,” a term I first heard via Gregory Betts:

“Plunderverse makes use of the wealth and waste of language by exploiting the unattended information in a source text. It makes connections and variations of a previous author’s words to create a different poem from the original piece. But, whereas found poetry and the like celebrate the random connections discovered by abstract rules or unconventional readings of source texts, delighting in the dissolution of communication and the disjunctive semantic fragments that survive, plunderverse celebrates the possibilities of speaking through source texts.”

Some version of this has been going on since the ADs at least, when ancient Romans and Greeks took lines from other poetry to form their own poems in the form of a cento. Or when in the 20s, Tristan Tzara suggested he could make poems by pulling random words out of a hat. Or in contemporary context, when Greg Betts takes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 150 and erases much of the text to form minimal and highly dense poems (The Others Raisd in Me, Pedlar Press).

Using this method of taking words from other poems, Pirie is able to juxtapose unusual images, disrupt common expressions and conventional syntax, and use the sound and word play of the source texts to inspire her own sound and word play. She calls this style of plunder verse “in-filled plunder.” In the following poem, the source text is Alice Oswald’s Dart (Faber and Faber, 2002) and the text has been plundered in reverse order, which I’m assuming means that Pirie began at the end of Dart and moved to the beginning. The plundered words and phrases are in italics.

working at parse purposes 2: river-high

omission of else is not
admission of this-love:
trees among memory
springback- undergrowth
nodes walkway slatted us
a corduroy strobe
the apples of mounds
little rise fills and
fill’s level around hours
of foot slips & pauses

the into takes up decades
night’s cinema’s riverflesh
surrenders the missing

in give only lackjaw
unlucid dream on this slide to
about wrong, a drunk dialing
the continuity being water

ledge-root boulder grip –
dayshift light how this
blacked-out into inch

the shale too can walk
wade, gather watergnats
to sitstill from the inner

work the skimscum
of dripdripdripdrip
praises of beauties re:
dundant, conducted
sufficiently. insist on these
moments the wave lines
of hips gestures, a part
restored to water, blink

Other poems also respond to external stimuli. There are ekphrastic poems such as “obsessively relational” which is a response to an exhibit featuring Michelle Provost’s art at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Pirie reshuffles Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence” in “harem, scare ‘em” and plunders bpNichols’ “talking about strawberries all the time” in “kind is a skin naming saints,” “all the time i wanted to” and “a contradiction.”

In “29 red,” a poem of nine sections spread throughout the book she reshuffles the text of her own poem in various patterns over and over. The changed syntax and rearrangement, repetition of words, of the colour red attached to different aspects of family life give the poem the effect of a quiet well-known hymn and evoke a tone of nostalgia; memory is reconstructed again in a series of rearranged stanzas.

Another way in which Pirie samples the world around her is in a series of sonnets at the end of the book that present a group of people and their relationships to one another from the point of view of each person in the group. The last lines of each are repeated in the next until the final sonnet combines lines from the other sonnets. In these sonnets, Pirie's dialogue is very natural and realistic, and changes for each type of character: for example, the dialogue of a friend, “BFF Karen:” “big frowny face, kiddo!”, a therapist: “Dr Barb,” “you’re each frustrated with silence,” a daughter: “Kaylen”- “Yes, MO-therrr. (huff), tone. So-rry. (eye roll)” and others. These different tales remind me of the Canterbury Tales. There is humour, pathos and tension. In all of these sonnets, Pirie uses traditional sonnet techniques such as the end rhyme in some cases, but also contemporary language, alliteration, sound and word play.

I’ve only touched upon a few brief examples here, but been shed bore is packed densely with poetry, with sound gymnastics, brilliant wordplay, with stories, recurring themes such as the difficulty of communicating, loneliness, and awkwardness caused by dealing with prejudice and societal convention. There is tenderness here, eroticism, joy of language and life, sadness and compassion. It’s a book to pick up again and again and find something different to ponder and to enjoy.

This is not a review per se, but an engagement with a book by someone who has been my writing colleague since 2006 or so when we first took poetry workshops with rob mclennan. And for a few years when we worked together as part of a not officially named workshop group called &mpersand with Nicholas Lea, Marcus McCann, Roland Prevost, Sandra Ridley and Christine McNair. As publisher of AngelHousePress, I have had the opportunity to publish Pearl Pirie’s work in a variety of printed works and on line and most recently I have had the pleasure of publishing her chapbook over my dead corpus. I have seen Pearl’s work grow and change as she explores and immerses herself more in all forms of poetry, including Haiku. been shed bore is an excellent first book from someone whose writing continues to grow. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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