Hammertown, by Peter Culley

New Star Books, 87 pp, $16, softcover.

Peter Culley throws the hammer down in Hammertown. That trucker-lingo opener is irresistible: Culley does so much more than throw stuff down, so much more than merely changing gears, but his writing does enact a working-class poetic that makes the analogy apt.

Hammertown looks beneath the streets of a Vancouver Island town to get at history. Culley's language moves below and above surfaces by creating a rusty hinge that echoes throughout the book, throughout the space of a padlocked lumber yard. At other times, it rises like steam off a workshop roof.

The building material of the book is forced through sonic pressure: as language builds, structures are made and unmade. Intensities build, in the way words sound when the construction process places them side by side; neighbourhoods begin to display their unique characteristics. In a poem called "A Book of Quiet Numbers", Culley writes:

starting from its silken couch

amassed the dooryards breezes

mealy-mouthed retainers tossed

with lateral rigour the

engine begins to totter

smoke correct and then describe

its infantile procedure

Although Culley references the hometown, he does it without typical nostalgia. He quotes the poet Kevin Davies: "hometowns are reformist idiots" and answers him back:

no i wouldn't want to be

a kid about it

not if it meant heaping up

the days like then i did like

cottonballs on a shelf of

plexi cement plugs gainst

forlorn outbuildings nosing

Hammertown also sends its greetings back to Parisian Georges Perec, who, in his book Life: A User's Manual wrote about "a fishing port on Vancouver Island, a place called Hammertown". Culley uses the reference to take on the perspective of the outsider, all the while looking in on what he already knows.

Through keen attention to words, worlds, Culley spins another version of the Canadian landscape, from the ground outward, all without forgetting the work it takes to see the grainy edges of things.