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Nicole Markotić and Louis Cabri read at Green College at the University of British Columbia last evening, as part of the Play Chthonics: New Canadian Readings series. This is an audio capture of their reading. They each offered new work, as well as material from recent collections: Cabri’s Poetryworld(CUE, 2010) and Markotić’sBent at the Spine (BookThug, 2012). (There’s a reviewof Bent at the Spine from rob mclennan’s blog; a review of Nikki Reimer from an April 2010 edition of The Globe and Mail might give some sense of Markotić’s poetics. Louis Cabri has an essay, “Unanimism and the crowd: Early modern social lyric,” in a 2011 issue of Jacket 2 that suggests some of the ways in which he combines poetics with critical-theoretical work.) They also took questions about their poetics. Thanks to both of them for their excellent, engaging readings. The recording, like the one from September also linked to this blog, is fairly vérité, with some air-vent noise in the background, but the voices come through very clearly. The introduction is by Andrew McEwan. Copyright remains with the authors. Sincere thanks to Green College for hosting this event and for providing generous support for the series, and also to the UBC Department of English.
Reminiscence and nostos, the pool of cultural memory, may be exhausted, fraught, depleted, but those voices still sing. And they don’t merely seem to sing; they do it. The poem doesn’t just thematize song, but aspires to it, to a condition of music. The iterative echolalia out of which the poem fabricates itself – drawn out in the eighteen-syllable last line of the passage above, which gesticulates toward its own extension, its excess – isn’t so much a set of traces or afterimages as it is a persistence, a choral sustain. Something like what Gilles Deleuze, thinking of late modernist composition, might have called an assemblage (though I’m sure this isn’t exactly what Hughes might have had in mind when he used the term). No matter how many times I come back to The Waste Land, I keep thinking that I can hear it. Still.
Last night’s concert included two on-stage interviews with John K. Samson by novelist Keith Maillard, the current chair of UBC’s Creative Writing program. When Maillard asked about how he composes his songs, Samson remarked on his slowness, on the agon-like struggle he goes through writing and finishing songs. He said something close to: “The process of trying to remember how to write a song is how the song gets written.” Again, it’s the sometimes effortful reconstituting of failing memory that’s key in his conception. Samson’s songs both thematize and enact the approach of expression, of saying something, to the constantly retreating and collapsing edges of language, the unsayable. Part of his humility, I think, is a recognition of a pathos of the failure of meaning at the core of the lyrical. As one of his characters, a broken-hearted dot-com entrepreneur, puts it in a one-sided overheard plea to an former lover, “So what I’m trying to say, I mean what I’m asking is, I know we haven’t talked in a while, but could you come and get me?” (77). A lyricism of the colloquial emerges in these lines through missed connections, through tentatively expressing the desire to be heard and to make contact with someone else. Community, that is, starts to consist in desire rather than realization, in the mutual recognition of our absences, as both speaker – or singer – and listener. We start to empathize across, and because of, our mutual distances. When in another lyric Samson obliquely defines his poetics, his practice of making, in terms of utility and labour (“Make this something somebody can use” ), the insurmountable ambiguities of everyday language convert into common weakness, into lyric public address.
(I have left out specifically discussing the deftly crafted, mercurial imagery and evocatively kiltered phrasings that are hallmarks of his style. Most of what I’ve cited above are examples of moments of colloquial diffusion rather than of poeticism. But he’s great, trust me. Take a close look at any of his lyrics. You’ll see what I mean.)