We don iden­ti­ties like masks

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE - By Jonathan Ball

CALGARY’S Ja­son Christie probes what it means to “act” in Un­known Ac­tor (In­som­niac, 122 pages, $17). As in his pre­vi­ous book, a se­ries of science-fic­tional prose po­ems about a fu­ture world of hy­per-in­tel­li­gent ma­chines, the struc­tur­ing or lim­it­ing force here is cap­i­tal-C cap­i­tal­ism.

The no­tion our iden­ti­ties are to some de­gree prod­ucts we are sold, which we don the same way an ac­tor dons a mask, lies at the heart of Christie’s book. Along­side this lies the ques­tion of whether mean­ing­ful ac­tion, per­sonal or po­lit­i­cal, is even pos­si­ble any­more.

Christie has a sur­pris­ing amount of fun with th­ese ideas. “A spec­tre is haunting What­ever — the what­ever of com­mu­nism,” be­gins one poem, nicely cap­tur­ing a con­tem­po­rary malaise, our ap­a­thetic half-hug of rev­o­lu­tion.

In an­other poem, struc­tured like a play, the char­ac­ter “Con­trol” of­fers the ul­ti­mate cor­po­rate at­ti­tude: “We buy you — we sell you — we lose you—we can even shoot you! Not a bird would stir in the trees out­side.”

Many of Christie’s po­ems med­i­tate upon the ways so­cial me­dia me­di­ates (say that three times fast). At least one line deserves im­mor­tal­ity: “Hell is like all my on­line friends.”

Red Deer’s Kimmy Beach of­fers her best book yet in The Last Temp­ta­tion of Bond (Univer­sity of Al­berta Press, 114 pages, $20). In some­thing re­sem­bling an ex­per­i­men­tal thriller/ro­mance novel, Beach’s long poem sat­i­rizes the pop­cul­ture fig­ure of James Bond.

Beach’s Bond is a seem­ingly im­mor­tal fig­ure aware of his sta­tus as a fic­tional cre­ation, who prac­ti­cally steps off-screen to se­duce women watch­ers of his films. Things are go­ing well for Bond un­til the woman he thought was his big­gest fan, “ONE,” plots a fem­i­nist re­venge.

“You can’t kill James Bond,” says James Bond. Well, Beach has given Bond her best shot. The Last Temp­ta­tion of Bond is smarter, fun­nier, sex­ier and per­haps even more plau­si­ble than any Bond film.

New York’s Nico Vas­si­lakis brings dig­i­tal de­sign to bear on vis­ual po­etry in Mo­ments No­tice (Luna Bisonte Prods, 75 pages, $30). Vas­si­lakis’s full-colour po­ems ex­pand and deepen en­gage­ment with his core text, a long poem whose pri­mary pas­sages are re­peated and de­vel­oped us­ing com­puter-gen­er­ated im­agery.

“Let­ter salad Let­ter science Let­ters from space” writes Vas­si­lakis, and the line neatly sum­ma­rizes the look of Mo­ments No­tice, which en­grosses and fas­ci­nates. Much of Vas­si­lakis’s po­emde­signs have a hyp­notic qual­ity.

The down­side of the book is its im­agery al­ready feels dated and even out­dated, al­though it presents it­self as cut­ting-edge. Nev­er­the­less, the best po­ems here could be framed and hung.

“Can lan­guage / res­ur­rect, / even though / they won’t?” asks Toronto’s Deena Kara Shaf­fer in The Grey Tote (Sig­nal, 64 pages, $16). Pri­mar­ily con­cern­ing the deaths of Shaf­fer’s par­ents, the ele­gies of­ten fo­cus on the roles ob­jects and lan­guage take in the griev­ing process.

In one poem, Shaf­fer con­sid­ers the pa­per­work be­queathed: “One let­ter af­ter an­other ad­dressed to the dead. Each need­ing iden­tity can­cel­la­tion. Ten times the hours on pa­per­work than by grave­side. ...On­go­ing min­i­mum pay­ments for a ma­hogany cas­ket.”

The ways grief has been mech­a­nized, in­dus­tri­al­ized, com­mer­cial­ized and bu­reau­cra­tized call into ques­tion just how in­ter­nal such emo­tions are, and how reg­u­lated they are by ex­ter­nal forces. Shaf­fer bal­ances care­fully be­tween en­gage­ment and de­tach­ment in th­ese thoughts on the na­ture of grief.

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