By Michael Turner. New Star, 92 pp, softcover
Michael Turner, a fixture in the Vancouver arts scene, returns to poetry with 9x11 and other poems like Bird, Nine, X and Eleven. Best known for the 1995 poetry collection Kingsway, which documents the eponymous street, and the punk-odyssey novel Hard Core Logo, adapted into a mockumentary in 1996, as well as his collaborations with internationally acclaimed Vancouver-based artist Stan Douglas, Turner here turns a tender and intimate eye to disaster in our everyday lives, however ambient and small.
9x11 is a follow-up to 8x10, a novel published nine years ago that unravels as a series of modular snapshots covering addiction, war, and immigration. 9x11 is subjective and personal, unlike its predecessor.
The title refers not only to the events of September 11, 2001, which continue to fascinate and repel, but also to the dimensions of the room that Turner writes in. The book opens with a description of the room behind a bay window—“A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink”—and grows out into a fabric of tenants and the homes they live in.
In unpretentious and straightforward prose, Turner guides us into confronting the confusion and cacophony of the city, placing facts and speech beside images tuned in to critique. Consider “Synesthesia”, in which “coffee is no longer where it comes from but how” with “ethics you can taste, politics on the tip of your tongue”.
9x11 informs us as it relates to us. For example, we learn that the houses known as Vancouver Specials had a labour-saving design based on dimensions of factory-produced sheets of plywood and that “buying a house is no longer putting in an offer and waiting, but screaming from the stock exchange floor.” These lines aren’t a far cry from a trip to despair, but while they bring us reality, they also bring warmth and vulnerability. In “Personal”, the poem that closes the collection, Turner writes: “If you are worldwide, sustainable, intentional and metaphysical, could we meet again, start over?”
One wants to say yes, not only because of the range of formal experimentation that will excite the arty types, but also because Turner’s frank, humble, and humorous voice transports us through the difficult present of housing in Vancouver, while considering the intimate work that goes into building relationships and the lasting magnetism of narrative and speech.
9x11 may as well be a guide to living in Vancouver right now.