A quartet of poets: Everyday takes a cool turn
The everyday is the new black of contemporary poetry. The personal, the domestic, and the banal are no longer boring chatter but subject to a cultural articulation: the lingual equivalent of finding a great shirt at the back of your closet and having everyone say you look really cool in it.
Nathaniel G. Moore's Let's Pretend We Never Met (Pedlar Press, $20) pulls tattered Roman poet Catullus from the pages of antiquity and takes him on a novelistic jaunt through the contemporary city, giving him such communication tools as text messaging and allowing him to be just another ordinary guy. Though it's hard not to see such a move as Anne Carson–esque, Moore metaphrastically transforms so many literary genres into poetry and works so thoroughly through the most everyday of concepts (love, that is) that the breadth of the work is breathtaking. It's the only book of poetry I've read with its own (TV-style) promo to start, featuring a guest appearance by Jean-Paul Sartre gossiping about Jean Genet. This crazy collision of historical thinkers is the kind of thing that keeps happening here. In "No. 10" Moore writes:
This has become our little cluttered life,
Catullus: a suction, a destination mark.
You bind me to my habits so I leave you
dull at the airport, outlined in talcum powder.
What time are you ending? Intestina leftover love letter.
We witness weakness; vigil-tipping miscreants devalue culture
as lodged corncobs spackle sparse gums,
the next generation snortsinvisible ink.
Moore has written a love poem to a literary crush cloaked in multiple ironies, as in "Temporary Lust Supplement":
our inner Catullus does inventory, forever domestic,
nostalgic, hung up on all the wrong things.
Envy the red puffy synergy,
sopped up sleeve of red wine
Some stains won't come out, but we come to like the way they reconfigure our worn cuffs.
Shane Rhodes takes up this fascination with the intricacies of the everyday, even in the seemingly exotic locations his poetry inhabits. It's not monuments he meditates on in his third book The Bindery (NeWest, $16.95) but the way what we see stains or marks us in some way.
He continually notices the quirky details in every location, as in the poem "On Travel": "For Yak cheese hung out to dry on the wind". And he combines those images with the larger emotions they might invoke: "For, when you have everything and nothing, it's only the nothing that hurts." He works through a whole host of poetic forms by reading as he writes, reinterpreting as he goes, and inventing ways to proceed. The concept of the everyday ache shifts through various landscapes from Mexico to "The Blues" on the iconic Canadian highway:
Driving through the Rockies, I listen to Hank Wil-
liams and his heart-felt blues in the spring rain while
the mountains turn white to blue as the snowpack melts.
Heart-felt because it was my father's truck and I felt lone-
some that I hadn't seen him in so long. Heart-felt because
there is something in the core wailing appeals to.
Rhodes's facility with language injects resonance directly into the veins to shock and then soothe: the storm and the calm. "Night ravels me," he writes and it's a version of night on which we can agree.
In Songs for the Dancing Chicken (ECW Press, $16.95), Emily Schultz looks at her version of the everyday through her fascination with the films of Werner Herzog. In "Sergeant Brown" she writes:
It begins with a dulcet huffing,
like the distant thump of ocean, or bay
of bassoon. Why are we most beautiful
when we fight: our coats shimmering, the motion
of muscle striping arms and shoulder, agility
clear and quick as sunlight, eyes intent?
Pinning down that kind of beauty is the quest of this book, but again, irony serves to undercut any preciousness such a concept might call up, as in a line from the title poem: "You are the most important chicken in history."
Someone (maybe it was ubiquitous local writer Kevin Chong) wrote that the fan letter is the genre of these times and if that's so, Schultz takes that genre one huge step further. Her love of Herzog's work is evident, but her understanding is demonstrated with ecstatic hyper-lyrical language that knows beauty can be built but also abandoned.
Rachel Zolf takes everyday "plain language" and pulls it apart with abandon to see what it costs us under contemporary economic regimes in her book Human Resources (Coach House, $16.95). Her procedural combinations code a new type of embrace for language where "We want to use gibberish that reflects today's too-wide-open white page velcroed to the hip." She uses language to show how language sticks to us, often without our consent.
With these kinds of collisions between literary language and corporate-speak, Zolf creates a critique of how money continues to change hands: "With money keen on poesis, Kafka and Stevens sold peace of mind, Jabí¨s stocks. Bataille stuck Dewey decimals on dough and we bought fashion insurance. Our parents fell in love at the archives, spent all the marbles they'd collected to that point."
She calls the currency of language into question, both playfully and forcefully. It's worth noting that Zolf works as a corporate-communications consultant, immersed in the language that became her material for this book. I like her excessive view: the book is tough and funny–no easy balance to achieve any day.