Cusp/detritus: an experiment in alleyways / By Catherine Owen

with photos by Karen Moe. Anvil Press, 117 pp, $16, softcover.

Catherine Owen and Karen Moe's collaborative poetry/photography project, Cusp/detritus: an experiment in alleyways, enacts a version of life on the street through conceptions of individuals and incidents rather than caricature or sweeping statement. Cusp is a great word to describe Owen's position as an outsider who moves inside the areas she initially seeks out for inspiration. Similarly, detritus accurately signifies the aestheticizing of found objects that Moe's photography creates. Moe, a Vancouver photographer, is also a multimedia performance artist.

Owen, a poet, and singer-bassist for the black-metal band Inhuman, shakes up a lot of categories, blurring the line between poetry and nonfiction, reconfiguring the relationship between writer and muse, and moving beyond the observer/subject model to become a participant in the experiment. In “Gallery: Anti-Sonnets”, Owen writes:

You would have had
Me witness you too in this act, begged me to buy you
Coke—“You'll get a poem for it.”—you said, knowing
The indifference of the artist's hunger. But I
Declined, for once putting your hell
Before my need to see.

The central focus of the poetry is an ode of sorts to “Frank”, who moves from object of study to love interest to obsession and finally, I think, to a difficult muse. In “delusions”, Owen writes “Your eyes, gouges against the night, do not yet seek, as the starving, a space in death's flesh./My hands, which have been reading your body's braille, will remember each raised place and speak you, deciphered & whole, to the world.”

His schizophrenia is mirrored by her artistic obsession to “get poems”, but also his beautiful intensity is reflected by her desire to make him “whole” in language.

This intensely personal foray tends to reveal characters like “Dara”, “nathan”, and “Randall Deere”, who are also in some way “real” people, as the notes suggest, stripped of any highly romanticized or overly cynical portrayal, neither celebrated nor condemned. She gets out of the way to create the illusion of reality, so you can believe in their stories. She questions her position as a “cannibal of unhappiness” in the preface, which is written as a series of journal entries. Like the fragments of things in Moe's photographs titled “metal & weeds” and “apples & tin”, the poetry here becomes more than what always gets left behind. It's there. Always there.