Recorded this morning. Sorry in advance for my lackluster French. I was D- student in that language from start to finish and today was no different. The text is below the video in the form of a broadside ...
Saturday, 27 February 2021
Tuesday, 2 February 2021
Tuesday, 26 January 2021
Wednesday, 20 January 2021
John Tyndall, Listen to People
Hidden Brook Press, 2020
It’s been some time since a new book of poems came out from London, Ontario poet John Tyndall. The years between The Fee for Exaltation (Black Moss Press, 2007) and the present though, are at least partially filled in this three-segmented presentation from Brighton, Ontario’s Hidden Brook Press.
Lots of Love (the first of the trilogy) begins with a sequence of poems relating to the author’s father, his death at 90 (“White Oxfords”), and the people that the senior Tyndall knew in rural southern Ontario. The vision of the passing away is strikingly haunting:
The last time I
saw my father
his eyes had been
shut an hour already
although his mouth
so I cupped his
in my hand
trying to close it
but of course
the jaw fell again
and when his lips
parted they made
the minute sound
I’d heard countless
times just before
he’d begin to speak
saying perhaps his
Lots of love
Family history is shared: Your great-great-uncle / Black Jack Tyndall (an innkeeper not averse to heavy drinking) and a tale of being laid in a wagon pulled by a horse that’s similar to one named “Fly” many years later (pulling a milk wagon for the author’s father in 1930s Wiarton). The poem, Falling Down: Father Tells Us, is both endearing and delightful, though the gaiety is abruptly halted by the closing lines: until one night at the movies / a guy came down the aisle / to tell me another horse / had kicked Fly, broke her leg / and did I want to be / the one who shot her. The first-person narrative of the senior Tyndall makes the rendering so effective and sticks with the reader much more so than had the telling been like a distant observer’s memory. And it’s this personal approach to the stories in Listen to People that invites us to simply sit and be quietly attentive.
Another highlight of the book’s first section is the three-part Wiarton Cenotaph: Father Tells Us, each telling of friends of Tyndall’s father who perished in World War II. The middle of the three, Russell Moore, flew off / we tracked his plane down / the east coast of Scotland / until he journeyed beyond / our range and crashed / on a foggy mountain / Russell was buried over there / but I brought back / a snap of the grave / his family couldn’t visit.
The opening third of father, relatives, and familial friends is accentuated by a beautiful poem, She Danced Before She Could Talk, about the author’s storytelling wife Diane Halpin’s hearing obstruction which is eventually corrected and results in one who married, Tyndall writes, the Gael with the Frank / who listened and spoke to all / the tongues of the Earth / yet never forgot to honour / the pulse, the beat / on her goat-skinned bodhrán.
We also meet “Doug,” a bagpipe player, in the wonderful For All Time Lamenting, bidding farewell to a dear brother:
This lone rendition
at the gravesite
carried mourners off
while still on Earth
in this valley
where every piper
who plays The Flowers
adds a deliberate
mistake to ward off
the bad lucky
Undetermined Significance, the second part of Listen to People, conveys the author’s ongoing struggles with declining physical afflictions (e.g. peripheral neuropathy) and dreaded cancer testing. Since I myself have a milder form of neuropathy, I’m familiar with the electric shock process aptly described as “a torturer’s initial jolt” in the poem, EMG us, and suffice to say, very unpleasant memories swam to the surface of my mind. For Tyndall, there is the pain of tingling and shooting nerve endings, the loss of balance, the inability to perform tasks which were at one time much easier. Blood tests and X-Rays and the author’s interactions with those conducting them help the reader to understand the dialogue of Tyndall’s thoughts. The poem, How She Knew Me, relates this best, where we read, during a bone marrow cell extraction:
and that felt
like someone stirring
my very soul
no pain, no
pain, no pain
only my core
giving it up
take this, doctor,
may it serve you well
I replaced my clothes
long johns, lastly
my long woollen socks
At my follow-up
as my ailment
she said she
had seen me
day after day
she said she
by my socks
The section closes with Go Ahead John, and here it’s Miles Davis and jazz that bleeds into the final portion of the book, appropriately titled Listen, and we do, as more musical sounds speak of bygone library school days (the author subsequently worked four decades at Western University’s D.B. Weldon Library). We encounter individuals in the poems that follow who’ve intersected the author’s life, including a London, Ontario literary friend (now dead) in Sit Back and Listen; a Hungarian immigrant to Canada in Zsuzsánna is in Love Forever, while in Only a Dream Camino, the author, while travelling, sees foreboding crosses in a small city / on the pilgrim’s way / to Santiago de Compostela, later writing:
I announce I see it
everywhere, in everything
vapour trails across the sky
here, in the ceiling panels
the flooring tiles
Former London poet (now living on Hornby Island, BC) Cornelia Hoogland is another Tyndall has scribed for in Raven Plays the Mountain, and his gentle elegance and subtle rhythmic responses are on display, particularly in the poem’s second stanza:
Raven has flown to this peak
and faced the steady winds
since land first dried
and rose to icy heights
he has spread wings, fanned tail
and tumbled backwards
over the summit, joyous
in this cacophonous comedy
soared above evergreens
to play the mountain
again and again
to make the snow fall
and the water flow
to his call
Other appearances in this closing third of the book include Clinton, Ontario resident and Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro and one of my very favourite bands, R.E.M. (in their earlier, much rawer years). There is also a bit of much-needed levity in Moniker, Handle, Tag— a comical vision of the author as a street tag graffiti artist, while Listen to People ends with the fitting Haunt, and it does as it phases in and out between the ghostly ethereal and the still-tangible life that’s left to Tyndall, who gazes upon a perfect circle . . . a ring only visible / at this very window / like a constellation / only we on Earth perceive / a great roundel within / a tree no longer there
Saturday, 16 January 2021
Friday, 15 January 2021
Incubation Chamber by David Barrick
Anstruther Press, 2019
20 pgs., $10.00
The Phobic’s Handbook by Síle Englert
Anstruther Press, 2020
20 pgs., $10.00
Jim Johnstone’s Anstruther Press, based in Toronto, has, year-after-year, earned a spot as one of Canada’s premier publishers of poetry chapbooks. And while some excellent chapbook presses hit you at the beginning with how beautifully they’re physically put together, it’s the content that causes this emergent imprint to stand out. Chapbooks generally being quick and concise reads, they’re often a go-to for poets looking to have a batch of poems in-print early in their career, something tangible to sell at poetry readings and book fairs (though veteran versifiers use this option as well, often between full-length collections or when seeking a hard copy of a single-themed series of poems or a solitary long poem).
I picked up Londoner David Barrick’s Incubation Chamber last year when it was released, and have always meant to write up a review of it, primarily because it was really good and because David is one of the friendliest, easy-going poets you’ll ever meet, and deserves a write-up, albeit in the micropress that is Beliveau Books and its magazine which I happen to edit.
There are dreams galore in Incubation Chamber—numbered and which make me wonder if Barrick has written at least eight-dozen of these (being the highest number cited in this chapbook is titled Recurrent Dream #91), and if vivid, lucid reveries are part of his nightly regimen. If so, I’d love to take hold of any future book bearing his name in the future and see what Dali-esque visions await. But in the meantime, since it had been a while since I initially read Incubation Chamber, I thought it time to go through it again at long last and scribble down my opinionations on this exceptional work—and it is exactly that, using the English language to its highest potential to communicate these visions Barrick has to his audience (which I believe will expand with more book releases).
Recurrent Dream #19, which kicks things off, is a swirl of dystopian happenstance in which nuclear winter opens / a clearing where she stops. The protagonist in this piece is a doe, which, upon demonstrating to the dreamer the way in which to gather food, stings the reader with Oh darling, you never / were my son.
There are animals galore in Incubation Chamber (much like there were in Tom Cull’s Bad Animals which I reviewed last issue)—not only the dinosaurs that strike you on the cover, but in poems right from the outset: the aforementioned doe, the fox in Proportional, bees and flies in Borrowed Cottage, chipmunks in REM 1:42AM, and later on the chicken you’ll feel empathy for in REM 3:02AM (which, for me, harks back to my Vegan days and the mistreatment they endure to be our food):
All chanticleers lost. Poultry bosses
congregate on the killing floor,
mutter so this is insolvency.
Now “chanticleer” may be a take on Chantecler, a breed of chicken originating in Canada and, which, played a larger-than-life role as a rooster in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, The House of the Seven Gables, a dense but insightful novel which I waded through last Fall. Of course, that may be entirely coincidental and a result of my mind’s own projection, but nevertheless, the final effect is one of reader’s sympathy. And the title poem itself is a treat of culinary wordsmithing. Sight and sound merge to blast a lasting image with the reader, in the faithful tradition of stanza and jazz:
I see my face float along
the windshield’s curve
glowing dashboard blue.
Séance radio broadcasts
Miles Davis improv
from the ninth circle. Sound
sounds like gator gargle,
every song static-draped,
synesthetic milky veil
filling the car’s interior.
As is the case with other fine chapbooks, Incubation Chamber wastes no pages or lines—all words are necessary and there is nothing superfluous.
There is colour to fill the image, action as soon as it is required, and the exquisite use of a poet’s answer once the question of where am I? arises in the middle of each poem:
I can see the city sinking
beneath organic debris,
shucked-off carapaces burying
everything in November’s
Incubation Chamber is bookended with deer (a buck in the finale, while a doe, as noted earlier, graced the chapbook’s opener). And once again, the inhumanity in which we deal with our fellow inhabitants of the Earth stare us in the face no matter how uncomfortable that may feel:
I raise the antlers out the window.
I raise them and feel the absent bones
where skull was attached, where neck
and chest and legs would extend.
I feel them growing in my hands.
A tainted trophy that haunts—as does this entire collection which leaves one gratefully wanting more.
Síle Englert is another London, Ontario poet who obviously caught the eye of Jim Johnstone and Anstruther Press. My experience with her work has, until now, been primarily auditory—her live renderings of her poems garnered her a well-deserved reputation for literary innovation and a skillful hand. As with David Barrick’s chapbook, Englert’s The Phobic’s Handbook contains fourteen pages of text and each one is memorable. If “less is more,” than both of these poets along with their publisher have embodied the validity of such a well-worn phrase.
The cover caught my attention before I ordered it from Anstruther, and kudos go to any creator who makes use of images of antiquity (if George Bellows and 1912 can indeed be deemed as such, though I may be stretching a term out of a romantic desire to use such a word). The author’s brief bio tells us of a full-length forthcoming from Icehouse Press in 2021, so this limited-edition run of 50 copies may be worth something someday if Englert, as I envision, becomes a poet of national repute. Yes, she’s that good.
Phobias, as the chapbooks’s title eludes too, are plentiful here and make up each poem’s title—ones of which I and most readers are likely unfamiliar with. So not only is this quick collection a treat in terms of balladry but it’s also very educative as well.
Buttons spill and are undone in Hominophobia, and features a stanza I read multiple times just for its beauty:
coercion is customary in a gathering of two.
this quiet hour when speech fails—
or doesn’t mean speaking.
it means red mouth moves
the waiting hollow of
Often I’ll review a book from start to finish, but for whatever reason, I found myself thinking out-of-sequence during The Phobic’s Handbook, hence I was drawn, mid-way through, to its second revelation, Frigophobia, which, though I wasn’t familiar with the term, still conjured thoughts of being too cold (from “Frig” or “Fridge” which snapped hastily in my head) and I suppose I was proven right in my guess with its closing quatrain:
If you’ve ever died alone on a mountain, waiting to be rescued,
you’ll know what I mean. To leave something of yourself
lingering on the last surface that held you. Think of frostbite—
how it eats—cold will tear delicate pieces from a body.
I normally gravitate towards poetry that will calm and serve as a third eye for experience. Images such as these which Englert uses aren’t akin to that, nor, perhaps ironically, is my own verse that I scribe from time to time. What I’m looking for in a book of poems isn’t always what I find and as a result, I tend to be happy that it didn’t adhere to my limiting expectations. Falling outside of predictability and a reader’s desire for comfort makes a book that much more exciting and Síle’s work has accomplished that for me.
One of the chapbook’s highlights was Lalophobia (which is defined as an irrational fear of speaking), and it’s here that Englert conveys human emotion and experience with a task that many of us undertake rather grudgingly. Its opening lines, for me at least, can be viewed as a commentary on insipid writing:
There were once words but they scraped and scratched. She forgot
flourish-swirl of cursive and redacted too much dictionary. Ink-flow was
a way to speak without teeth. But adjectives were flowery and adverbs
verbose and when those were gone they took her colours with them.
Englert’s work isn’t something you easily digest. It’s to be pondered, re-read, understood on more than a single level or plane of thought. This is a collection that is easier to relate to readers by direct quotation rather than a reviewer’s often verbose interpretation (and I’d be as guilty as any other in that regard). Disposophobia closes with this to envision and glue into evocation:
once, I threw a memory away
it was still attached
strings or roots or veins
when I pulled, it didn’t break
if you feed them, they multiply.
The Phobic’s Handbook isn’t Síle Englert’s chapbook debut—that happened last year when Karen Schindler’s Baseline Press pounced on the opportunity to present her to the world in Threadbare. I often find myself envious of a small or micro press’ ability to trumpet a new writer to the ranks. That said, I certainly can’t begrudge Baseline for doing so in 2019—what Harmonia Press/Beliveau Books is capable of can’t touch the beauty of Baseline’s flyleaf, paper stock, and hand-sewing, and I am honestly happy for Síle to see her work attain the acclaim of which it is deserving.
It’s been said, in commentary I can’t quite recall, that London, Ontario is experiencing a “poetry renaissance” (much like that which occurred in the 1960s). Having left my hometown for one that’s much smaller and much less stressful, I can only watch from a distance and wonder where the Forest City’s literary future lies—so often many young writers have left in order to settle in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver where the literary scene is much grander and where a poet can interact with a publisher in a pub at a weekly reading series that a smaller community can’t effectively support quite as often. If Síle Englert and David Barrick represent both the present and future of Souwesto words (a James Crerar Reaney geographical coinage), then a hometown boy like me can experience, after the fact, how much the Forest City has grown over the past generation and offer a distant applause for its literary awakening.
In closing, it’s pretty neat when a poet’s words hearken back to something I’ve recently read or studied—in my case it’s the evolution of dinosaurs to birds (and of course the image serves as a mirror to the cover of David Barrick’s Incubation Chamber). The giant reptiles of yore never disappeared—they’re in our trees and gather at our feeders whenever we place fresh seed. Englert’s closing piece, Ideophobia, reminds me of this:
Turn slices of ocean to hot clouds. This was before
the birds, when they still had teeth. Reptilian eyes
the same but some days are dinosaur days, more
cumbrous and lumbering than fits comfortably
in the world. Navigating limbs like thickest redwoods,
the mass and curve of a body might not end for miles.
Elliptical scales all shed, replaced by angles.
Except for the egg.
—Andreas Gripp (originally published in Beliveau Review #2, Autumn 2020 Issue)