Nightwood Editions launched a trio of new poetry books in Vancouver tonight, with readings to a packed house at the Western Front. Publisher Silas White introduced Jay MillAr – himself a poetry publisher, helming Book Thug in Toronto – as one of the country’s underappreciated talents. MillAr set up half a dozen poems from Timely Irreverence by noting jokingly he’d seen a Green Day concert a few days ago and had now found a proper punk-inspired stance for reading poetry.
|You can still see a little of the Green Day-inspired stance here.
MillAr’s writing foregrounds a wry self-awareness: most of the poems thematize themselves as poems, as avowedly contingent verbal artifacts (as in the title poem: “I’m tinkering with these lines . . .”). Another preoccupation in his work seems to be with collisions of representation and violence, as in “More Trouble with the Obvious,” where in a kind of dark comedy of innocence he describes how “kids” turn found objects into imaginary guns, which still – as mundane alchemies, blurring creativity into threat – have the potential to “blow you away.”
Elizabeth Bachinsky’s poems from The Hottest Summer in Recorded Historyhave a lighter touch, but draw on a similarly intensive, if playful self-consciousness, setting formal detachment and poetic “craft” (“Eliot was right, it’s useless to describe a feeling”) against confessions of personal investment, of getting her feelings hurt:
To dislike this poem, to dislike me.
[. . .]
Astonishing. Poets like this word.
I like this word. I’ll use it again. Astonishing!
How could you not like me? Not like this thing?
She reminds me at times of Colleen Thibaudeau, with her fearless attachment to expressive particulars and to the pleasures of major-keyed melodic diction. As with her other books, Bachinsky’s range of forms (from villanelle to sonnet) is impressive; her reading of the mono-rhymed “Nails” was a highlight (check it out, get the book).
Brad Cran read a set of four poems dedicated to Gillian Jerome. These, too, are personal pieces, but very different in tone from Bachinsky’s. Some of the pieces in Ink on Paper have developed into what Cran has characterized as essay-poems: long-lined, longer texts that combine a narrative plainness (“It was days before Halloween . . .”) with almost journalistic descriptions of personal history and contemporary politics, like open letters, cut through with occasional moments of melopoeic density: “Fear beat in our chests like second hearts.” These are poems designed to communicate, without pretense or highfalutin obscurity: civic poems. Moving and provocative, they work so well when read aloud.