Chapbooks from Apt. 9 Press, Ottawa.,
by Andrew Vaissius
Lea Graham, This End of the World:Notes to Robert Kroetsch, 2016, 26pp.
Marilyn Irwin, the blue, blue there, 2015, 36 pp.
The great summer sport in my neighbourhood is mowing ones lawn – over and over again. Several times a week. There arises an obnoxious thrum of internal combustion engines that drown out even the cawing of a crow in the back oak tree, which if heard, sounds far more intelligent than the engine's whine. Crow pro-vides the connection with Lea Graham's chapbook. These notes can be interpreted as not only to, but also about Kroetsch. Remember his novel, What the Crow Said, in which Vera Lang is brought to climax by a swarm of bees, and a card games erupts that goes on forever? Lights and siren go off, and to hell with manicured lawns. This is the world of tall tales and multifaceted word-stones. The taller the tail the higher the horse. This slim chapbook of notes presents the reader with the same kind of entertainment: hard to pass up being dealt in, and harder not to feel a bit diddled with. As any book by or about Kroetsch is likely to be, this chapbook riots with language and glories in how a word denotes as much as what that word denotes. “Crows valentined dumpsters” slows the reader right down with image, and doesn't forget that now we must take that black wing in hand on a stroll. Later we discover another line in “A Deviating Elegy for RK”: “The unintentional details of love deliver us.” It comes together.
The book is dense and requires a close and attentive read because Graham is onto something here – on about place and place names, and on about from where a writer writes. Kroetsch taught at Binghamton University in New York for 17 years, but he never really left the prairie. His best writing originates from his western experience, but he was far from being provincial. Graham, like Kroetsch, nudges the reader on with sham, myth, and guffaw. Enough said simply means think about it – like the weather there's always more on the way. It is a good thing that such a worthy homage of Kroetsch comes from a non-Canadian. In an edition of 80, and very lovely.
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I must say that an atheist epigraph harkening what might come within the covers is a welcome change from the usual fare. We are given a profound Neil deGrasse Tyson quote about how we are make of stardust from the Big Bang. It would be even more comforting if Irwin made the necessary distinction between science and technology, but that's a quibble. The chapbook before me entitled the blue, blue there – the sea and sky? - is a handsome work from Apt. 9 Press. On the title page under the author's name is a stick and dot drawing of the constellation Pisces, the fish. In only the second poem, “one fish, two fish” the author runs to the constellation in a kind of tension, or Mobius strip, or bounces off padded cubicle walls. Irwin has an engaging sense with her imagery. In “creature, comforts” - beware of the commas in her poems - she concludes the short poem with the words: “empties, overflowing”. Empties cannot be overflowing, except as a metaphor, or more likely here as bottles, not their contents, spilling out of the case. Irwin succeeds in making a relatively simple poem into a bit of a mystery.
In “bingo” Irwin missteps in the last line. The poem, set up cleverly, includes the bingo call of I-28 in both French and English, but for some reason to the penultimate lines “this is community/ no, this is just where we are” she appends “everybody wins.” But everybody doesn't win, especially in the poem, especially at bingo. The game is a gamble, and gambles are fraught with mostly losers and pay-offs for very few winners. Be assured that more poems succeed than trip up. Irwin writes short poems especially well. These following two are funny-true:
poem for poets
like when you spell
sometimes it's just nice to be heard
Cameron Anstee at Apt. 9 Press in Ottawa has done a superlative job in the presentation of these poets. Both volumes are stitched, and showcase an attention to detail and abiding concern for nurturing word and writer. Irwin's chapbook comes with a navy blue cover overlaid with a title strip of textured cream-coloured paper with feathered edges. On this strip the second “blue” in the title stands out in a blue tint, though a couple of shades lighter than the cover paper. The book is long and slim and a pleasure to hold. Anstee chose to design Graham's book a bit oddly, yet thoroughly attractively. It is executed with a four square patterned stitching comprising a larger fifth square. Only two thirds of the book can be spread open, but this doesn't make reading a problem since the printed material on the pages restricts itself to an easily accessed ½ page. The cover leaves are black with cream-coloured pages. These two books are similar yet distinctive publications. They are objects of beauty, and Anstee deserves recognition for their appearance as well as contents.
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