amongst books

amongst books

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Chimney Stone by Rob Winger

In The Chimney Stone (Nightwood Editions, 2010), Rob Winger constructs taut and rigorous couplets with edge and humour. Ever since John Thompson's Stilt Jack (Anansi, 1978), ghazals have become a popular poetic form with Canadian writers. See Catherine Owen's Shall: Ghazals (Wolsak and Wynn, 2006). See rob mclennan’s discussion of The Chimney Stone and the ghazal.

“The ghazal allows the imagination to move by its own nature; discovering an alien design, illogical and without sense—a chart of the disorderly, against false reason and the tacking together of poor narratives. It is the poem of contrasts, dreams, astonishing leaps. The ghazal has been called ‘drunken and amatory’ and I think it is.”
John Thompson, Stilt Jack, Collected Poems & Translations, edited by Peter Sanger (Goose Lane Editions, 1995)

In The Chimney Stone, Winger departs from the voices of Muybridge’s Horse (Nightwood Editions, 2007) and the tension between public and private persona to adapt a conversational and personal style. (See my ridiculously long rhapsody to Muybridge’s Horse in Ottawater.com 4.0 “Rob Winger’s Shifting Eye” pp132-143)

In the original Persian form, part of the constraint was for poets to address themselves in the final couplets. Winger does this several times in The Chimney Stone, sometimes by first name and sometimes by last name. Sometimes simply as buddy or pal. Sometimes he addresses others and sometimes even the poems themselves: “Poems, I don’t want you : / there’s no salt left on my old, white mountain.” GHAZAL FOR THE SWEETWATER SEA

Many of Winger’s ghazals reference and take titles, lines from other ghazals by Phyllis Webb and John Thompson, and poems, essays, Mark Twain, even an interview with Wayne Gretzky, songs by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, the Pogues, U2 and others. Whole sections are named after albums by Dylan and Harris. It’s no wonder the cover with its brilliant red centrpiece, beautifully designed by Carleton Wilson, replicates a vinyl record album. This book is full of music and especially folk, blues and country music, all of these so effectively integrated into the poems, without jarring the couplets or rising out of the poem.

There is whimsy and humour in the titles, such as Ghazal for the Blonde on Blonde Blues, Ghazal for Gazelles (of course!)—a delightfully playful and earnest poem with an evangelical refrain—
and in the poems themselves, which include bits of lyric beauty but are not reverent and distant.

“Longtail’s orchids and the golden Theravada temple : / a postcard’s beatified bureaucracy.” GHAZAL FOR BANG KRUT

“Hydrangeas in the ditch , pigs in the shit / in Jo’burg, you’re born in a cradle of tin.”
GHAZAL AGAINST PURE REASON

“If there’s an answer, so what? / The lightning’s still three bays away.”
GHAZAL FOR SHEET LIGHTNING

I think what I enjoy most about this form, and Rob Winger does this so successfully, is the feeling that, although the couplets are not linked, they are, very gently linked to one another.

I love the playfulness of The Chimney Stone, the word play, the plays on Rob Winger’s last name, the zany juxtapositions, the questions, the combination of humility and humour:

GHAZAL FOR JARI KURRI

He and I see the game the same way:
the same source, the same lust, the same surgery his mind was capable of.


Finnish sandwich. Flash, the Great One;
at the centre of our lives: this naming.

Carbon and monoxide: the old Detroit perfume.
Everybody take a whiff, on me.


Your best bet’s an accidental trifecta: rye, clever, jackdaw:
there’s no such thing as synonyms.

It’s too late to catch Carter’s homer, Hokusai’s Fuji, Apollo’s thrusters:
why wait for the right Winger to pass?

GHAZAL FOR HARMONY ROAD

We rise from marinas into melodrama.
On the counter, the Macallan’s half-full.

I want to write war novels and drink, sucker-punch the busboy;
which bits of men are worth applause?

Out of ditches, the road rises. Fault lines swell. I lose
my footing:

so give me Alligator Pie, teddy-bear pancakes, an angry branch ticking
the nightmare’s window.

Should I climb right out of the machinery, or dig
in, web, build me some good, frosted fences?

Rich, we’d buy the house on the hill and grow pumpkins:
how many children have we lost to friction?

Pause the traffic and cardinals will come to your feeder:
smeared sand in a shattered mandala.

When the road ends, we’ll plunge
into gravel, find

the old man in the young child,
the alchemist in the engineer.


The bulb needs a vacuum to burn, buddy.
Is this the dark you’ve been looking for?

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