amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Poets Write the Unspeakable

Honeymoon in Berlin - Tom Walmsley with  illustrations by Sandy McClelland (Anvil Press, 2004)

I have been enamoured with the writing of Tom Walmsley (& the man himself, frankly) since I read his poetry collection What Happened (Book Thug, 2007) last year. That book inspired me to write a long poem in five acts. I went on to read & enjoy his novels, Shades  (The Whole Story of Doctor Tin) (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992), Kid Stuff: a novel (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003), Dog Eat Rat (Mansfield Press, 2009), and more recently several of his plays.

What is consistent about his work is the combination of raw honesty, minimalism, humour,  vivid descriptions, a knife-edge's sharpness & wit, & above all, passion. This passion is prevalent in Honeymoon in Berlin, which couples dark desires with a fear or,  perhaps a realization would be more accurate to say, of death. What is it that causes humans to go to extremes? The need to taste life perhaps?  This book is full of ghosts. At any given moment, someone is walking over our graves. Honeymoon in Berlin has been described as dark. Duende is at work in this book, which sticks its tongue up Death's ass.  Perversely perhaps, I see Honeymoon in Berlin as full of light, full of honesty, rather than the usual politesse & repression. A hunger. A celebration of tiny crimes…

Yes, Loretta
I've done things in darkness
drunk
the night swallowed them up
& I showered them off at sunrise.

Bloody Jack - Dennis Cooley (Turnstone Press, 1984), republished with additional poems & an introduction by Douglas Barbour (University of Alberta Press, 2002). [Note that I own the original, not the 2002 revision.]

Reading about the boxing in Kid Stuff reminded me of Dennis Cooley's "Bloody Jack," about John Krafchenko, a professional wrestler & desperado from Western Canada. 

This book defies genre, like many of my favourites.  Bloody Jack is an attempt to tell the unwritten story of a man who perhaps one could say has been robbed of his own chance to tell his story, who couldn’t read or write. "Blood Jack" continues Cooley's brilliant lyricism, prevalent in all his works. One of the things I enjoy about Dennis Cooley is his ability to embody other voices. 

See, for example, The Bentleys (University of Alberta Press, 2006) where Cooley renders the voices of Sinclair Ross' characters in As for Me and MyHouse (Renal & Hitchcock, 1941)

In the voice of Jack, Cooley's language is violent, muscular, masculine: "you are the oil can/melts my rust." Poems give a full picture of Jack, via his voice, an omniscient third, seemingly factual newspaper articles, interviews & witness testimony, to his hanging, for instance, & various people who knew  him. 

This book is a precursor to Rob Winger's Muybridge's Horse (Nightwood Editions, 2007), which provides accounts of Muybridge from his friends, families & associates. There's variation in style & tone, colloquialisms, formal language in both books.

in his tangerine skin
we buried him
in mint condition
on his eyes
two georges
they shone like hen's eyes
he inhaled the dark
bbbbgg bbggg
engorged it
like a badger breathing
for blood
when we shovelled him in
christ he was a gorgeous man
the eyes were breathing
& shining blood



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