Imag­ine if Whit­man knew about Face­book

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - By Jonathan Ball

N“Per­haps and very likely / there’ll be pain,” writes Ottawa’s San­dra Ri­d­ley in The Count­ing House (BookThug, 80 pages, $20). This ex­ces­sive un­cer­tainty about what seems in­evitable strikes a dis­cor­dant chord. That chord echoes through­out as Ri­d­ley sug­gests a sado­masochis­tic re­la­tion to the muse, one of con­tin­ual im­bal­ance due in part, his­tor­i­cally, to gen­der pol­i­tics. “Your Dar­ling is vul­gar in all of her vi­o­let forms,” writes Ri­d­ley, and it’s easy to mis­read “vi­o­let” as “vi­o­lent.” Else­where, “THE END is a wretched death” — the fi­nal ac­count­ing, in the metaphor­i­cal “count­ing house” of the book. At other times, Ri­d­ley’s lines have a dou­bleedge, of hu­mour: “ap­par­ently / only / two read­ers re­count / what you’ve done.” The am­bi­gu­ity of the word “re­count” plays to her darker themes while keep­ing her tongue in cheek. An as­sured, grip­ping and star­tling book. EAR the end of Mul­ti­tudes (Coach House, 128 pages, $18), Toronto’s Mar­garet Chris­takos gives voice to the mod­ern poet’s lament: “i took one sen­tence and threaded it through another and / all i got was this lousy t-shirt.” Else­where, Chris­takos is more suc­cinct: “po v etry.” But all isn’t doom and gloom: on the plus side, the seem­ing enemy of the pro­duc­tive poet, Face­book, is, in Chris­takos’s hands, the stuff of poetry. The ti­tle al­ludes to Walt Whit­man’s fa­mous Song of My­self and its line “I am large, I con­tain mul­ti­tudes.” Chris­takos con­nects this insight to the mul­ti­tudi­nous na­ture of the vir­tual self. Her most am­bi­tious poem, Play, seems pulled di­rectly from her Face­book feed, com­plete with time­stamps and a dis­cus­sion with online friends, within the poem, about the poem be­ing con­structed. “see there’s nowhere in­per­son speech you can walk up to / some­body and say ex­cess = x s. s’why I love the in­ter­net.” The ten­sion be­tween the new forms of ex­pres­sion that tech­nol­ogy al­lows, and how an in­creas­ingly tech­no­log­i­cal cul­ture bleeds from th­ese ex­pres­sions their po­lit­i­cal force, en­er­vates her po­ems. Oregon’s Ian Doescher brings the Bard of Avon to­gether with the Lu­cas of film in the literary mash-up Wil­liam Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Quirk/Lu­cas, 176 pages, $16). Retelling the story of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in the style of a Shakespeare play, Doescher raises a silly gim­mick to sur­pris­ing heights. At times, the par­ody is pitch-per­fect. When Luke Sky­walker tries to con­vince Han Solo to help save Princess Leia, the Bard-like barbs fly: “LUKE: Hast thou no heart? She sen­tenc’d is to die! / HAN: My sen­tence is: ’tis bet­ter she than I.” The throw­away al­lu­sions to well-known Shake­spearean lines are clever enough, but what makes the mash-up work is that Doescher doesn’t lean upon th­ese lines. In­stead, he takes his ab­surd con­ceit se­ri­ously. Shakespeare has even more cul­tural pres­ence than Lu­cas — Doescher knows this, and serves both mas­ters well. “Poetry means loser wins,” writes Vic­to­ria’s Stephen Sco­bie in At the Limit of Breath: Po­ems on the Films of Jean-Luc Go­dard (Univer­sity of Al­berta Press, 88 pages, $20). In the poem on one of Go­dard’s master­pieces, Weekend, Sco­bie writes: “What a rot­ten film / All we meet are crazy peo­ple / eat­ing each other.” A funny barb, with a hal­lu­ci­na­tory de­vel­op­ment in the im­age, that works against ex­pec­ta­tion by in­sult­ing Go­dard’s film, the stanza stands on its own. At the same time, the “in­sult” con­tains a quo­ta­tion from the film, thus repli­cat­ing Go­dard’s own method of in­ces­sant quo­ta­tion — deep­en­ing the poem for those who know the film. Sco­bie’s en­coun­ters with Go­dard work best when they crys­tal­lize as such para­doxes, and when they re­peat Go­dard’s rep­e­ti­tions. Though lack­ing the shock, vi­o­lence and for­mal­ism we might ex­pect, Sco­bie’s po­ems in­tel­li­gently en­gage Go­dard’s films. Winnipeg English pro­fes­sor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanball­com) re­cently pub­lished The Pol­i­tics of Knives (Coach House), which won a Manitoba Book Award.

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