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.