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"We Jimmied the Radio": Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome and the Lyric in Public (Audio)

Here is the audio of a conference paper I delivered at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, on September 21, 2012, as part of the Public Poetics conference. It’s called “’We Jimmied the Radio’: Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome and the Lyric in Public.” Although it makes some gestures at what might pass for materialist analysis – as any work that addresses the idea of a public purview, of relevance or of engagement probably needs to do – my approach locates itself pretty firmly in outlining a phenomenology of the lyric, or maybe in describing the collision of the lyric with a phenomenology of commitment, or of community. At the time I wrote this, I was reading Jacques Rancière’s study of Mallarmé– as well as other work by him that seemed to me to be interrogating the intersection of the poetic and the political – so for me some of that matter gets echoed here, though not overtly mentioned. I come near the end of the paper to the founding of CWILA (“Canadian Women in the Literary Arts”) and to what was in the summer of 2012 a controversy around gender and negative reviewing. (I mention Russell Smith at the beginning of the paper, a gesture at some of this debate.) An expanded version of this essay – about double the length – is currently under consideration for publication. (I seem, as well, to have taken a little more than my time on the panel: The talk clocks in at 27 minutes; I thought I was briefer.) One last plug: check out the poetries of Brad Cran and Gillian Jerome. Buy their books.

Short Take on Brad Cran, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Jay MillAr

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.