Mus­ings on Men­non­ites a wel­come re­turn

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

FOR­MER Win­nipeg­ger Nathan Dueck fi­nally fol­lows his out­stand­ing 2004 de­but, king’s(mère), with he’ll (Ped­lar, 96 pages, $20), which ex­plores a frag­men­tary nar­ra­tive set in Rat River while play­ing with Plaut’dietsch. Dueck ex­plores the sonic qual­i­ties of this ob­scure di­alect in a med­i­ta­tion on Men­non­ites that drags re­li­gion, re­gion and read­ing across a land­scape of lines. Dueck’s den­sity is as re­mark­able as his range. Whether plun­der­ing the canon for the lines in clas­sic nov­els that might em­ploy a con­trac­tion if writ­ten to­day, trans­pos­ing songs for mu­si­cal trans­la­tions, or sim­ply jok­ing (“‘You haven’t had a night’ / ‘… ’til you’ve had a Men­non­ite’”), Dueck pushes his lan­guage play to the fur­thest pos­si­ble ex­tremes. At the heart of the col­lec­tions is the apos­tro­phe, both as a punc­tu­a­tion mark and in its lit­er­ary sense (as an ad­dress to an ab­sent ab­strac­tion). That’s less al­lit­er­a­tion than Dueck would have man­aged — it’s been a long wait, but he’ll is worth it. Lo­cal leg­end Dennis Coo­ley, long known for frac­tur­ing lan­guage, man­ages to outdo him­self with abecedar­ium (U of Al­berta, 150 pages, $20), in the in­ten­sity and fre­quency of his word­play. A high­light of the col­lec­tion finds Coo­ley roast­ing Bill Gates. His Mi­crosoft Word re­mains ubiq­ui­tous in pub­lish­ing de­spite be­ing prone to crash­ing: “Chair­man Bill has promised / has given us The Word / the fi­nal ill / umi­nated MS. / Word that shall de­ter­mine / our ev­ery ru­mi­na­tion / … / this doc­u­ment / can­not be saved / be­fore con­ver­sion / please save.” The seven scru­ples of [Robert] Kroetsch dis­cov­ers a sort of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism im­ma­nent in a Wikipedia sum­mary of “the seven prin­ci­ples of sleight of hand.” Coo­ley still can’t be beat when it comes to the sheer poundage of puns. Larissa Lai and Rita Wong com­bine forces for Sy­bil Un­rest (New Star, 128 pages, $18), a re­pub­li­ca­tion of their 2008 book, com­posed col­lab­o­ra­tively over email. A bit­ing cri­tique of how we find our­selves com­posed of the de­tri­tus of a cor­po­ra­tized cul­ture, the po­ems un­set­tle the lan­guage of Western cap­i­tal­ism. Though that might sound overly se­ri­ous, the book is filled to the brim with black com­edy: “i slept with my ly­can­thropic boyfriend’s teenage feral son / in a high se­cu­rity nu­clear fa­cil­ity / while high on crys­tal meth / ac­com­pa­nied by a six­teen piece brass band / in hopes of win­ning a mil­lion dol­lars / while other con­tes­tants waited in a sweat­shop in shen­zhen.” The image snow­balls from Jerry Springer-es­que silli­ness into Amaz­ing Race- styled cul­tural tourism. At the same time, the poem works to un­cover the global net­works that en­able our en­joy­ment of “harm­less” entertainment. Lai and Wong twist breath­tak­ing, whip-smart turns of phrase into a col­lec­tion that can’t be missed. Ot­tawa au­thor and pub­lisher Rob Mclen­nan com­bines gen­res in The Un­cer­tainty Prin­ci­ple (Chaudiere, 100 pages, $15), a se­ries of frag­ments that read al­ter­nately like prose po­ems, mi­crofic­tions, or mini-es­says. Also, tweets, com­plete with hash­tags: “Vanilla Ice refers to his chil­dren as ‘snow cones.’ #IDon­tHaveFact­sToBack­ThisUp.” At one point Mclen­nan won­ders “if an­i­mated car­toon char­ac­ter Sponge­bob Squarepants [is] a prod­uct of 1950s nu­clear test­ing.” The brief ex­pla­na­tion that fol­lows makes too much sense for com­fort, while re­main­ing a par­ody of pop-cul­tural crit­i­cism. Another high­light presents a char­ac­ter sketch in which a man scans “faces in crowds for recog­ni­tion, for porn stars, both am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional, he has seen on the In­ter­net. He says it’s a mat­ter of pop­u­la­tion.” Wry and wink­ing, The Un­cer­tainty Prin­ci­ple works as a pocket guide for Mclen­nan’s mind. Win­nipeg English pro­fes­sor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanball­com) lives on­line at www., where he writes about

writ­ing the wrong way.


Pa­trick Tay­lor’s pro­tag­o­nist, for­mer IRA bomb-maker Davy McCutcheon, takes part in an es­cape from Belfast’s Long Kesh prison in 1983.

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