Wednesday 1 July 2015

REVIEW: Lillian Nećakov (Apt. 9 Press)

Nećakov’s “Giant Cockroach…Agility Sentences”

In The Lake Contains an Emergency Room

Christopher McCarthy
     Lillian Nećakov lives in Toronto where she has been writing and publishing poetry for the past 30 years. In her most recent book, The Lake Contains an Emergency Room (2015), a beautiful hand-sewn chapbook produced by the Apt. 9 Press, in Ottawa, Nećakov revisits memory, fathers, the absurd, death, abuse, birds, agility sentences and surrealism.

     The move to subvert reality in the new poems is an imaginative step in line with earlier work. Nećakov was one of the featured poets in Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence, (Mercury Press, 2004) and is currently editor of the Surrealist Poets Gardening Association. She is also the author of the Sickbed of Dogs, Polaroids, Hat Trick, The Bone Broker, and Hooligans. Her work is published in numerous anthologies and magazines in Canada and the U.S.A., in China and throughout Europe. This new book boasts a breezy form that resonates, even after multiple readings, all while veiling the dark depth of these poems with humour.

     The Lake Contains an Emergency Room contains only the suggestion of surrealism balanced with memory, and at times, anecdote. There is a surrealist timbre to the eighteen poems featured in the new sequence; however, this effect is well balanced, emotional, and immediate. There is a sense of reality through animation:
                                                                     Story Cycles

                                                                     My cloud rots around the alcoholic
                                                                     mothers delouse their children
                                                                     there is a function to the orchestra
                                                                     we plant rubber seeds

                                                                     occasionally whalebone and ivory sprout.

This is a small example of the kind of fragmented lines, what we might call, “Agility Sentences.” The name derives from title of a Nećakov poem but it also informs the poetics; each line drags closer towards a line break, and finally pulls down, down; while every poem culminates in a single period which is often the only form of punctuation used.

     Nećakov has been writing agility sentences for some years now.[1] It is fortunate that, with this recent work, readers can put a name to the form. And it is an engaging form, and a jarring one, as each break engenders new signification: “my bicycle wheel / spins / inconsolable shadows.” It starts out expected, wheels do spin, but with the following break, the image bursts out—as light casts its shadow through the spokes—the focus shifts to what the object is doing. This creates an emotional distance between the speaker and language.

     The winding down of each line, stanza to stanza, down to the inevitable full stop, affects the scan and often necessitates re-reading the previous line. This method achieves an absurd brilliance in “Collecting Twigs,” and “Small Brains,” the latter is fabulous and is possibly the best sustained balance between surreal description and narrative in the book.

     The only shortcoming of The Lake Contains an Emergency Room is failure of the effect of some of its italics. It is often unclear why italics are used. Do italics mark the use of a quotation? Are they meant to achieve a thin irony by evoking another, separate lyric voice? Their effect may become more obvious in a larger collection but the heavily italicised sections of “Burn It,” “Poser,” and “Sedna from Northern Baffin Island” smother the poems. They could be dropped for the sake of the clean clutter-free style Nećakov employs elsewhere.

     The poems in this sequence form a fine thematic unity. Family figures, like fathers (see the anti-hero in the wonderful, “You Are Not My Hero”), are a recurring topic throughout. The combination of gentle humour, absurd reality, and nostalgia has a sinister counterpart in the darker poems of The Lake Contains an Emergency Room. The lyric voice of the observer is always shifting age and perspective.

     The author’s interview with Rob McLennan published six years ago is fair indicator of her thoughts on where memory and surrealism intersect:

                                     8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
                                     Today, I love pears. My dad has a pear tree in his garden; I grew up with them                                      falling all around me.[2]

Nećakov grasps that what is absurd is also real. Projectiles, funerals, cycles, the “Small Years” (oh christ this is it / …this is it) menstruation, “the hurt gone now / a deep moon coming up,” render simple everyday occurrences in language that make the events seem fantastic or terrifying.

[1] See “Two Poems,” from 2014, “In the Woods” and “Tragic Dressmaker”; published by MadHat Lit.
[2] rob mclennan, see the “12 or 20 questions”(2009) interview with Nećakov for the above/ground press blog.