Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Polyamorous Clicking Song

It's been a few weeks since we've done a "Blogging from the Bookshop" post here at Thirsty, and I was thinking I'd mix it up a bit today by talking about a couple new Spring books I've picked up in the shop in the last week and have really been enjoying. 

Many of you in Windsor and beyond might be acquainted with Jason Guriel by now, our poetry criticism tour  - in which Zach Wells and Anita Lahey also took part - having recently swung through a city near you. I loved Guriel's new book of essays The Pigheaded Soul, in which panache, wit, and stylistic savvy make for poetry criticism as (who would have thought it?) page-turning entertainment. And Guriel is high on the entertainment factor, the following passage from the introduction to The Pigheaded Soul having been a point of irritation and contention for a surprising number of audience members at every stop of the What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry mini-tour: 
The truly helpful poetry critics can't help themselves - and can't help but frustrate some (maybe even many) of the very readers they hope to serve. These are the readers who tend to want too much and, paradoxically, too little from poetry [...] By overburdening poems with so noble a purpose (making thoughtless readers think) we over ennoble their authors. To be sure, a person might acquire a fact or two from poems, but the best poetry is first and foremost what T.S. Eliot would call a 'superior amusement'.
Contrary to what some interpret as an attempt to reduce poetry to crass entertainment, Guriel's insistence that a poem must above all else entertain and engage a reader - and that its various edifying, enlightening, consoling properties can only truly be achieved first and foremost through said engagement - is also an operating aesthetic principle in his poetry, and one poets should pay heed to: it demystifies the chasm between intention and effect and makes the poet accountable to their audience. 

It's too bad Guriel's new book of poetry Satisfying Clicking Sound, which just arrived in bookstores this week, wasn't out yet for the tour, because it is one such 'superior amusement,' featuring dexterous, colloquial poems with tight conceits that engage the reader at the level of music and image and put Guriel's critical credos into practice. Here's an excerpt from "Harebrained" in which the speaker imagines getting "a hare transplant" and being taken over by the impulses and tendencies of a promiscuous rabbit: 
You don't know
why you feel
compelled to hurry
once you clear
the canopy
of the wood -
you only know
you should.
Like a scrap
of cloud you get
carried away
by the scruff,
but you have no
word for talon-
tipped things
that fly above,
enjoying bird's
eye views of
whatever is
the word for
fluff like you.
It's ignorance
not to think
this bliss.
There's a platitude in the poetry community that poetry oriented at a reader is poetry that is inherently dumbed-down and *gasp* accessible. In addition to resorting to the post-modern cliché that coherent communication is an inherently cheapened and vulgar enterprise, it also assumes that capital P poetry exists only for a specialized audience of doctoral candidates. Guriel shows you that poetry can be flashy and smart without being oblique and arcane. I'd recommend Guriel's Satisfying Click Sound to longtime lovers of poetry and newcomers alike. 


Switching gears from poetry to fiction, I'd also bring Montreal-based writer Jacob Wren's new novel Polyamorous Love Song to your attention. Wren is an interdisciplinary artist whose work engages with literature, art criticism, radical politics, cinema, and performance installations. His books are structurally innovative, but functionally, necessarily so. He writes about love triangles, secret societies, gallery curators turned con-artists, politics as reality tv, interpersonal relationships and romantic crisis as fodder for avant-garde art, and more. His style is much more indebted to and reminiscent of  the central European and Latin American authors you'd find on a New Directions or Archipelago roster than anything published in Canada. Which, I guess, is partly why I like his work so much: it's heartening to know someone in Canada is not only reading as widely as Wren, but also finding an authentic way to synthesize the material. For Wren, "reading is always an act of creating one's own personal literary canon and then trying to put it into play, put it into some sort of dialogue with the world."

His 2010 novel Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed is a personal favourite of mine which, as Chris Kraus puts it, "recasts the recent political past as dystopian sci-fi." Polyamorous Love Song only came in yesterday, but I read half of it in a sitting last night, and so far it's about the parasitic nature of the artist; the fraught enterprise of creativity; an art movement in which "the idea of making [a] film is gradually replaced by this new idea of living it out instead"; a shadowy terrorist group advocating for "the social liberation of those who wear mascot uniforms"; a man writing a book about Hitler having intercourse with a dog; a woman writing a book about orgies whose purpose is to spread a virus engineered to eradicate high-ranking members of the political right (when a woman from the left gets it and becomes terminally ill she is forced to reexamine the authenticity of her political beliefs); and a book that is possibly the instruction manual of a cult and also shares the same title as the book about orgies: A Dream for the Future and a Dream for Now. How this all synthesizes is difficult to describe, but it does, and it's blowing my mind. Wren's fiction depicts a world in which everything is mediated by the political, a thrilling and terrifying world in which conceptual art bleeds into an underground nexus of conspiracy and intrigue and where the lines between life and performance are dissolved: 
"If this was one of your projects, one of your films -" Silvia was really shouting now, trying to be heard over the music that was filling her head, trying to be heard over her own crying and anger, "if this was one of your projects then you'd really be paying attention. Then you'd know what the fuck I was talking about."
"What do you mean one of my projects?" Filmmaker A realized she couldn't help herself, she was getting angry, raising her voice too, as they stared each other down across the expanse of the warehouse balcony. 
"One of your projects." Silvia was crying so hard now she could barely make herself heard. "one of your fucking projects. One of your films."
"What are you talking about?" Filmmaker A was really yelling now, really getting upset, "This is the film ... What we're doing now, this is the film. Haven't you understood anything I've been saying ..." But then she caught herself and quieted down a bit too suddenly, nonetheless continuing to speak, almost to herself, though still loud enough for Silvia to hear, "This is the film." Silvia was crying but listening. "This is the film. And it's heartbreaking. And it's wonderful." 

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