Juxtaposition is finished: Ian Martin’s Climbing Out of Other Peoples Hands

ian martin other peoples hands

Climbing Out of Other Peoples Hands
Ian Martin (website), In/Words, 2016
$7 (Buy here)

Archive of Google Searches from August 2013

instructions on opening yourself up
instructions on cutting yourself open
top five safest methods of self-surgery
ways to clean dried hand lotion off a human heart

protective covers for important organs
materials stronger than skin and bone
is it possible to lacquer organic matter
is it possible the heart cannot withstand being protected

is there anything inside my body worth keeping safe
utilitarian body modifications
heart shaped box site:amazon.ca
literal heart shaped box site:amazon.ca -nirvana

is the heart just layers caked on something hidden underneath
is the heart just layers all the way down
can i tear the heart out and start over
can i tear the heart out and start over -lyrics

is a heart made out of anything but other people’s hand lotion
best types of hand lotion
places to buy hand lotion
places to buy hand lotion ottawa

Google is today’s Delphic oracle. We ask the white cave our questions, and the answers come in a garble of collective talk the search bots help us make sense of. Not just the direct stuff about restaurants and slime mould, but the existential: am I sick? How can I be healed? A search history is as naked as a transcription of a prayer. Consider what you find typing a few of poet Ian Martin’s queries into the engine yourself: through “instructions on cutting yourself open,” you’ll find an 8-step guide to wrist-slitting that gently outlines the process before concluding “Nothing is worth dying for, and there are many people who want to offer help and love to you“;  from “is the heart just layers caked on something hidden underneath,” a story about previous iterations of the Mona Lisa discovered beneath its surface. Perhaps every question has already been asked, but the more idiosyncratic and personal ones still force the search algorithms to spill out junk like a gutted tiger shark. It watches what you click and files that information away, that it might give the next seeker a better answer. It’s not a great leap to see an analogy to writing poetry in that.

In a Weird Canada interview last year, poet Jacob McArthur Mooney talks about the effect on young poets of growing up immersed in the web. I’ll quote it at length:

“I think that [“millennial” poets are] so used to the repetitive smashing together of cultural products: near and far, high and low, old and new, that the reach of their metaphors can be so much more ambitious and natural than for poets born even a few years earlier. A lot of this is the internet but it’s also the Internet of Thoughts, you know. It’s how those technological gadgets reconfigure the brain if you’re young enough to be born into them. Juxtaposition is finished, I think, it doesn’t exist anymore. So you get crazy shit happening out there with people like Kayla Czaga and Michael Prior and Vincent Colistro (or Jessica Bebenek or Liz Howard or all those people in Vancouver) where an amount of figurative reach that might seem showy or performative for even our more culturally-literate older poets (McGimpsey, Rogers, Babstock) just flow off the tongue and there’s no ta-dah attached, it’s just culture speaking.”

I think that’s as good an explanation as any of why Martin’s writing works so well. Another poet’s take on “Archive…” might’ve leaned harder on the irony of a tender, melancholy lyricism being mediated by an indifferent technology, with the search-speak asides (“site: amazon.ca” etc.) representing a clash or threat. In Martin’s hands though, the emotionalism and the punchlines are of a piece, both ironic, both sincere. Any web user can relate to how imperceptibly the poem slides from existential crisis to banal distraction. It’s a tone that’s all over Climbing Out of Other Peoples Hands—a wry, accepting sadness that understands things don’t have to be okay all the time for a person to get along.

That naturalism is what marks the collection’s standout poems, “Leander Makes the World’s First Kickstarted Journey into Space” and “Leucates Prepares to BASE Jump Off a Cliff.” Each brings into the present a minor figure of Greek myth, but once again the nudging irony you might infer from a poem with “Kickstarted” in the title is absent. The psychological reality of the ancient Greeks is lost to us, time being infinitely more estranging than distance. (Consider for example that the word “empathy” only entered the English language in the year 1909.) Yet we still have their stories, which retain the intense suggestiveness that has kept them alive through the ages. We know that a young man named Leucates, lover of Apollo, once threw himself from a cliff that would later be consecrated to that god; and when we as contemporary people try to imagine what he might’ve thought or felt, at best we can put ourselves in his place, facing those far-down waves as they shatter like panes of glass against the rocks:

leucates looks at his knees and sees grass stains.
he heard once that every man apollo loves
is doomed. he doesn’t feel doomed,

not right now. leucates looks down at the white rocks and
sees his body lying bloody and mangled. it doesn’t
feel like a premonition so much as a reminder.

An ancient Apollonic cult once made a yearly sacrifice of a convict “to put an end to the longings of love”. They would strap birds to the man and hurl him from that same cliff, the idea being that the desperate flapping of the birds would slow his descent. Below, sailors awaited, ready to retrieve the man and, if he lived, remove him from their lands. Martin’s Leucates has one better, in the form of a parachute. But more than that, he has the freedom to deny the tragic inevitability of the ancient story; the thought of his own corpse a reminder of that freedom, rather than a fatal premonition. When he hurls his chute into the sea and elects, for the moment at least, not to jump at all, there is a seed of hope.

Martin’s Climbing Out of Other Peoples Hands is a very promising first collection, and the editors at In/Words both past and present deserve great credit for continuing to nurture emerging writers in Ottawa. It’s worth noting though that the production quality of the book leaves a lot to be desired, especially at a $7 price point that potentially limits the number of people likely to give Martin’s words the reading they deserve. The sloppy folding job on the chap makes it cumbersome to thumb through, and the spine of my copy is already almost worn through after a handful of readings. In/Words jacked up its prices a few years ago during Chris Johnson’s tenure as co-editor, but books like JC Bouchard’s Portraits and Selina Boan’s An Act of Distillation were lovingly-made items that compared well with other artisanal (read: pricy) small press publications. The current eds should be encouraged in their exploration of printmaking techniques, but they need to reconsider whether their books-as-objects merit their asking price. It’s telling that You Are a Bad Person, the bonus .pdf e-chapbook included with Climbing Out of Other Peoples Hands does a much better job of presenting Martin’s poetry than the physical product does.

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When I Was Metal (from Nightshift #5)

This piece originally appeared in Nightshift #5, a zine I co-produce with my girlfriend Abby Kashul. The physical zine has some sweet collage design elements and a bit more writing, so if you want to grip a copy leave your contact info in the comments or something.

600x600

I remember space

               and then

                         bodies. A crush of young men in black Ts, dotted with blushings of brave girls, boyfriended or in packs. In the pit space is to be filled, atmo jammed with noise, feedback detonations approximating a familiar song, the singer, crucially, barking “not over but through: like a lance,”[1] the constant struggle for inertia, to stay right there, polishing oneself against the belt-sander of the stage as long as muscle allows, to experience… what? Some moment folded over into the heart of a star, the burning and burnt tone whose after-ring we call tinnitus: “That’s the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it’s gone you’ll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts.”[2]

*

The space up there is my teen dude life in rural Ontario; I lived much of it without touching or being touched, ‘cept the bearable rack and percussion of wrestling with my friends and the battle for proximity at the rare metal show I’d wheedle my mother or aunt into driving me to, usually out in Detroit. Both forms of contact left me sore for days: arms unhinged by a session in “The Bear Trap” (buddy Merle’s cruelly inventive submission manoeuvre), neck tense and throbbing from a profound “bangover.” Otherwise: videogames, horror and fantasy, message boards.

Merle Langlois’ “Bear Trap” (Or Double-Chickenwing Headscissor): A How-To
  1. With both grapplers standing and facing one another, Wrestler A boots Wrestler B in the gut to double them over (low blow also works).
  2. A straddles B’s head, holding B in place with their thighs. (Standing headscissors)
  3. A leans down and overhooks both of B’s arms (B’s arms are trapped at the elbow by A’s armpits).
  4. A leans back and pulls B to the ground, wrenching B’s arms painfully while squeezing the headscissor hold. To an observer, the end result looks a bit like A is giving birth to a full-grown person (B) in reverse.

I like how local (Ottawa) zinester Sadboy talks about entry into the moshpit: “i felt that i had been inducted into the boy-world ritual of touching each other’s skin to confirm that we exist.” I’m privileged in that as a cis male I’ve never been in the position of doubting the maleness of my body, only its adequacy as a male body. I pulled away from physical comforts that might’ve signified a weakness or dependency on others (esp. family), and, in the absence of a girlfriend, that leaves what it leaves. A craving for physical experience, to be part of something, have my body act and be acted upon.

I sometimes think it was a pity I was a metalhead rather than a punk, because while punk is (or is often associated with) a sort of cause, metal builds nothing but metal. Metal’s inner certitude is based on its scepticism or outright denial of the outside world, its resistance apolitical and ultimately pacifist. Society is unalterably corrupt, so it is pointless to try to change it. Victory comes in not allowing the world with its bribes and browbeatings to belittle you. Change, or growth, tends to be equated with “selling out.”

I Haven’t Changed

What I mean by love and light,
what I mean when I say
dark or life,
I’m looking for a woman who already has my name.
The stairs twist into helixes;
I bump my face against the backs of steps
I haven’t stepped yet.
All the hours’ shit geometry,
concepts sketched out on paper / unbuildable,
I haven’t the jargon to argue.
The days erect structures around me,
while I plot the calendars, walk up walls,
tell you, I haven’t changed,
I haven’t changed at all,
write an empty box, pound symbol,
exclamation, dollar sign,
stuff a rag in a bottleneck, a rag on fire,
let the hangover explode in my hand.

You opt-in to yourself and -out of the everyday, the seal between cauterized by the aggression of the music. This music is not particularly friendly to the human ear, but if it clicks for you, you take an outcast’s pride in that. Each new form of extremity (thrash cum death cum grind cum x) you can push through is a new layer of fence between you and the sheep: you at least have made a choice to like what you like, to be the way you are.

I stared out at wide-open fields[3] and saw walls. It’s a peculiar kind of disorientation when you can’t even conceive of direction. When I was at my metallest, I had no faith in metal as a coherent ideology (and in my experience most sane metalheads don’t), but I felt hopeless and powerless and cynical and strange, and I didn’t want songs to commiserate with, or songs about love and acceptance, because it seemed apparent to me that none of that shit was likely to happen. (Maybe it would be more accurate to say I’d decided it wouldn’t.) I wanted music with strength and certainty, truckloads of riffs, forceful melodies and above all an absence of “whininess.” Being conscious of the relative insignificance of your problems doesn’t make them obsess you any less; it just makes you feel guilty for feeling shitty about them. Metal is less about who you are than who you wish you were; the best riffs make you feel filled with steel.

It’s like dance music in that the goal of most forms of metal is to affect you physically. I think this is why it has such a limited expressive range– actually, that’s not right. There’s an extremely broad range of emotions expressed in metal: despair dense and black as volcanic rock, incandescent joy, murderous fury. But what it expresses, it expresses absolutely. What is lacking is any gradation, the kind of nuanced, self-aware feelings one experiences in everyday life: vague disappointment, little pleasures snatched out of routine, ironic amusement.

exhumedgoremetal

Exhumed’s trademark delicate melancholy.

Think of the grand gesticulations of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” a seminal inspiration to heavy, dramatic rock music which has become a shorthand for the glories of battle. You might deploy that song ironically (a la Apocalypse Now) to comment on the brutal stupidity of war, but that irony is via its repurposing by another artist; there’s not a shred of it in the composition itself. The same’s true of genre classics like Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, about a lonely guy who literally turns into metal and massacres people for ignoring him, or Slayer’s “Angel of Death”, a stomach-turning account of Nazi medical experiments set to riffs that squeal like disembowelled goblins.

Great bands have built their careers on subtle irony; Pavement, say, or Television. Irony can be a pure and serious tool according to Rilke, but it corrodes metal like rust. A music of extremes does not lend itself to self-awareness. There are many hilarious metal songs, but few great ones are funny on purpose.[4]

Turn_Loose_the_Swans_Album_CoverFewer still are the great metal songs about healthy interpersonal relationships, minor crushes, dancing, relaxation, boredom, masturbation, maturation, political action or social progress. (Judas Priest alone have a remarkable arsenal of terrible lyrics about sex, but at least people fuck in their songs.) Other genres can handle these themes because most of them are not defined by their volume, speed and attitude like metal is. Metal tends to stick to the grandiose, the gruesome and the fantastical because in those contexts its musical tropes are actually appropriate.

I never got to be a direct part of a metal community as such: outside of some close friends and a handful of Deadites I felt no kinship with,[5] there wasn’t really anyone at my school I could talk to about the music I was into, no old heads to pester for recs, so I turned to books and the internet. The main guy for me was Martin Popoff, a reviewer from Toronto who was (and remains) almost an industry unto himself when it comes to books on the genre. I studied generically-titled tomes like Heavy Metal: 20th Century Rock & Roll and The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time until I could damn near recite them, and Popoff’s limber, offhand way with phrases (and syntax) was so influential on me even the papers I turned in for class sounded like him. (His elegant description of Judas Priest as the “anchor and anvil” of the genre, meaning its stable base and the surface upon which its future was shaped, remains with me.)

If nothing else written here tells you what sort of person I was, the fact that 16 y.o. JM spent New Year’s Eve 2003 splooging out his first six reviews on Metal-Archives.com[6] should do it.[7] I aped Popoff’s style and opinions shamelessly, but over the next few years I discovered I had a few appreciators on the site’s Reviews message board, and I enjoyed getting to know them through our shared interest. Metal communities lack the utopian impulse common to punks, to build a separate society on the outskirts of the norm, but the online diaspora is populated by a range of personalities: articulate, aloof intellectuals; wise, funny old veterans of the scene; achingly sincere naifs; wall-eyed libertarian-literalist psychopaths.

I had a years-long correspondence with a nearly-blind computer programmer from New York. A witty Finnish reviewer sent me a package of candies and instructions on how to make a passable version of his local spirit by embalming them in vodka; they tasted so powerfully of anise that I could hardly stand to smell them, though I kept them for years.[8] A couple of guys sent me burned CDs of classic bootleg sets from their collections.

What I look back on mostly though, is the time spent discussing the craft with the other reviewers who were, it’s likely, the primary audience for the work. Appreciating the development of each other’s style, reading reviews of records I’d never listen to just because I was a fan of the writer. It was as much preparation for the poetry communities I’d find myself in a decade down the line as I ever got.

*

Of course, mercyfully, things change eventually. I remember sitting in front of my computer one day around age 18 in a particular mood I couldn’t identify, scrolling through my collection (…Artillery, Autopsy, Bathory, Beherit, Blut Aus Nord…) trying to decide on something I wanted to listen to and finding nothing, nothing. I think I was just content, y’know, faintly happy, and everything I had at my fingertips would’ve flattened it under a clustercuss of screams and whispers.

That was when metal’s grip on me began to loosen, and while the break was never total, I did soon reach that stage where I wasn’t able to fully connect with new material, even stuff that I’m certain would’ve swept me away if I’d heard it at the right age. I’ve spent most of my 20s ravenously sucking up new music across every genre out there; each new form, a new sensitivity articulated from the broader blur that is feeling. At concerts I like to dance and move, in the mass or alone and high in the centre of the floor, head aglow like a desklamp. When I come back to metal, it’s as I would a memory, until

AnthraxFistfulOfMetal

 

 

 

 

 

 

it all hits me again.

Ten Metal Records That Hold Up

Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain (2006)
Amorphis – Elegy (1996)
Coroner – Mental Vortex (1991)
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations (1980)
Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (2008)
Gorguts – Obscura (1998)
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath (1984)
Savatage – Ghost in the Ruins (1995)
Thought Industry – Outer Space is Just a Martini Away (1996)
Ulver – Bergtatt (1994)

Footnotes

[1] Paraphrase of reviewer Martin Popoff on Ozzy’s early style.

[2] Quote from Children of Men, the movie, which I remember being pretty good, but has little direct relevance otherwise.

[3] I’d like to say they had sheep in them, but I don’t recall any in Harrow.

[4] Megadeth’s “Peace Sells” is one. Most of the others are by Motörhead.

[5] I shit you not, there was one guy who would just belch-grunt the words “Burn the Priest” at me every time I talked to him. Burn the Priest was a crap band who later changed their name to Lamb of God, also crap.

[6] As of April 2015 it lists 102,408 metal bands, all thoroughly vetted by its stern volunteer staff of moderators.

[7] The first five Metallica albums and obscure New Hampshire prog band Divine Regale’s Ocean Mind, natch.

[8] Napero, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for your postage costs.

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Reading @ outrageous Toronto

If you’re in or around Toronto tomorrow, come see a man fall apart in front of a room of strangers when I read at outrageous.

Tuesday April 28
8pm
The Central (603 Markham)

My patron saint JC Bouchard was kind enough to get me the booking and to host me for a few days while I eat too much, buy new kicks and inch toward finishing The Dream Songs. According to the copyright info on his site he’s only existed 2011-2015, so we should all salute this precocious young man on his fine words and snappy dressing.

In other news, I’ve got a micro thing in the latest edition of matchbook, a tiny fiction mag out of Buffalo. Take literally a minute to read their selection of “Google ad fiction” here.

JM’s JaM: Fucked Up – Queen of Hearts

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New poem in (parenthetical) zine; Ottawa Zine Off! on horizon

Go read.

Go make.

Zine-off ottawa faelan sadboyJM’s JaM: Deep Purple – Lazy

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New chapbook kids, upcoming reading, notes

jm francheteau kids chapbook poetry hurtin crueMy new poetry chapbook kids with Toronto’s Hurtin’ Crüe Press is complete and available for purchase from their etsy store for a modest $2, or for $15 as part of a subscription pack including a number of back items and upcoming books. It’s my second chap, with the first being 2013’s A pack of lies. The press describes the new book as “a dark, attitudinal bunch of poems about life and death and love and collages,” which sounds okay.

I’ll be reading as an opener for Sandra Ridley at In/Words‘ The Reading Series in Ottawa on Feb. 25, so grab one there if you’re around.

Adam Lannan, a Toronto poet and zinester, has started up a new press. I’m in the first issue, alongside friends Jenna Jarvis, JC Bouchard, Dalton Derkson and others. He’s giving issues out for free, so drop him a line.

Since the last update, I’ve also taken over one of the seats on CKCU FM’s Literary Landscape. You can hear my interview with Toronto’s Jess Taylor on building literary communities here; I’m hoping to put together an interviewer with some interesting folks from New York for this week, but if not… I’ll think of something.

JM’s JaM: Motörhead – City Kids

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Another Year; Some More Readings that Were Good that Maybe You Want to Hear About; A List

Last year I did a brief round-up of the best readings I caught in Ottawa, so as 2014 rounds to a close I’ve decided to do the same. In 2013 I was very new to the local scene, so I really gorged myself; I was a little more moderate this year, but I’m sure I still averaged about 3 readings a month, which is enough to rot anyone’s brain a little. With that said, here were the readings that for one reason or another stuck out in what not-rotted bits remained.

1. Mary Ruefle, VERSeFest

There’s a whimsy to Ruefle’s writing and thinking in the sense that it is fanciful and odd, but it’s whimsy that’s joined to a precise, clear intelligence. It was with whimsy and not irony that she spent two minutes folding a white cloth in front of an audience so attuned for any note of profundity that most did not realize what she was doing was funny until, having made the cloth into a square, she named the performance “Fitted Sheet #1”. Because it was whimsy and not irony, the audience didn’t feel stupid or tricked when that moment of realization came. The bit punctured the churchy seriousness of the typical reading, not to deflate it, but to let air in.

2. Lenelle Moïse, VERSeFest

I went back and forth between the top two performances on the list, and ultimately went with Ruefle because it has had more impact on my thinking about performance. But if you’d asked me right after I saw it, I likely would’ve chosen her fellow American Lenelle Moïse. Her reading, mostly of material from her debut Haiti Glass, was jagged as an EKG, all spiky highs and lows. It was as much acting as reading; fierce, righteous, alive. People walked out like she’d dropped a bomb on them. And perhaps I’ve thought more on Ruefle’s conceptual arguments and less about these cutting poems about Haiti, and about surviving America as an immigrant, because it’s a privilege I have not to live always at the pitch of emotional intensity Moïse inhabited on that stage.

3. Jaap Blonk, A/B

Blonk, a Dutch sound poet and composer of idiosyncratic scores (yes, those are musical notations), performed a double-header for A/B Series in October. He began with a short lecture on the development of his own work and of sound poetry in general, focusing on its European roots and on the physical action of sound making, that was in itself enlightening and highlighted by a selection from Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate and even some vocal-sample based techno. It was followed by a performance of YappiScope, a multi-media show that saw Blonk “wander” through the a variety of his own pieces and those of his influences and contemporaries. Highlights included mashups of experimental films by Yoko Ono, Cage’s 4’33” segmented by bright solid colour projections, and a hypnotic, womb-like (if slightly overlong?) version of Brion Gysin’s “I Am That I Am.”

4. Kaie Kellough, VERSeFest

Everybody compares poetry to jazz and should shut up. But working with two mics and a variety of pedals, Kellough’s twenty minute set had the aerobic intensity and sonic violence of a good skronk session. His author profile photo is a six-armed motion blur; that works, and if written down his words looked like they sounded when he said them, they’d all have six arms too.

5. Michael Lista, Tree

I think it was said of Ben Jonson (by Dryden, possibly?), the great Elizabethan critic/playwright, that the public appraisal of the man’s art had suffered as only the art of a critic could suffer; that is, that by being bold in his opinions of others’ work, Jonson invited an extra dose of invective from his detractors, particularly when compared to his doe-like contemporary Shakespeare. Lista’s Tree reading, primarily of material from his then-forthcoming book The Scarborough, was delivered with blackened wit and an at times murderous intensity, that suggested he was well-prepared for slings and arrows. In other hands, the even rhymes and childhood tropes of a piece like “Radar” might’ve come to a more whimsical end; but, as Lista has noted in the past, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”

6. 2 Dope Boys in a Cadillac, VERSeFest

The Anthropocalypse is Here

The Anthropocalypse is Here

Poets Johnny MacRae and shayne avec i grec entered through the crowd like guerilla street preachers hijacking the subway, but all they wanted to talk about was waterbowling, tripping out and the end of all human life on earth. Like the group from whom they borrowed their name, each member of the duo is a distinctive performer in his own right but seems most at home complementing the other. Try putting your hands together with the thumbs linked. Then open your hands so they look like wings, or the Wu-Tang logo. Now curl the left hand into a fist and tuck it into the right palm, breaking the thumblink. Then roll the left over the right palm and open it so the pinkies are parallel and the thumbs now outstretched in opposite directions. They read poetry together like that. Heartily weird and worth a look if their Caddy breaks down near your town.

7. Messagio Galore XIV

Avant-gardist, publisher and sound poet jwcurry has been doing his Messagio Galore series for a number of years with a rotating cast of collaborators (this time the “Quatour Gualuor” included Rachel Lindsey, Georgia Mathewson, Brian Pirie & Robert Rosen), but the fourteenth edition in Ottawa was my first. Working from John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, the tightly-rehearsed but apparently randomly sequenced show segued between speaking singing and screaming; sense and nonsense; poetry and music and pure sound, the words slingshot from one mouth to the next in mid-sentence. The highlight for me was probably an English rendition of Jaap Blonk’s Der Minister (seen in text form here) performed as a duet between Pirie and curry, in this context coming off as a Pythonesque “apology” for prior inappropriateness that degrades into stuttering absurdity, a glitch in the political machine.

8. Ivan Coyote, A/B

It occurs to me as I get eight deep here that I could simply say instead “Don’t listen to me, just listen to them!” ten times in a row and you, dream reader, would be just as well off, probably. So maybe I’ll just say it of Coyote (my first time seeing them), who is as riotously funny, inspiring, tough and heartfelt as you have heard they are, and who is as gifted an in-person storyteller as you’re ever likely to come across.

9. Phil Hall, Sawdust

Hall whom, unlike Coyote, I have seen a number of times but, like Coyote, has a tremendous personal presence that comes from his utter lack of pretension and generous soul. What’s particularly impressive about Hall as a performer is that, given how knotted and fractured his poetry appears on the page, it comes across as naturally as speech when he performs it. And this is because, in the spirit of poets like Olson and Blaser who wrote so intriguingly of a poetic line and compositional energy that conforms to the poet’s physical dimensions and body-in-the-world, Hall has developed a poetry that simply fits him, such that his choice to end the night with a hangdog a capella folk tune felt equally of a piece.

10. Dalton Derkson, The Reading Series (In/Words)

Derkson is easily the least well-known poet on this list, being as he is doing the slimy thing they call emerging from the great nutsack that is obscurity, but he knows already that the secret to being a good performer is giving a damn that there are other people in the room. There seem to be few good poets these days working the Purdy-esque “sensitive man” vein that Derkson is finding success in, perhaps because it’s a trope that was at one time thoroughly stripmined by poseurs and thinly veiled misogynists; but Derkson comes by his voice honestly, and in his work there’s a critique of the way that masculinity can be used to justify downright shitty behaviour that feels refreshing to audiences. And audience is a big part of why this reading by Derkson (actually, two equally successful outings at In/Words in 2014) makes the list over those of some better-established poets I saw last year: he got to read in front of a true home crowd that received his poems as those of a conquering hero, and the energy pushed him to be better. That’s something that can in some quarters be considered a crutch, but it’s an element of localism that is worth celebrating. As a fan of music, I’d rather go see a rough performance that drives the crowd nuts than a technically immaculate but emotionally distancing demonstration.

dave currie jm francheteau poetry comedy ottawa

Photo credit Avonlea Fotheringham

The most fun I had at any reading last year, if self-servingly, was also at the In/Words Reading Series in January when I was a special guest of headliner Dave Currie. Collaborating closely with Dave on a semi-autobiographical mixed form performance was a uniquely rewarding experience in its own right and I’m proud of how well it went over, but it was the overall energy of the night, as with Derkson’s, that made it stick out even more for me. Even though the series is constantly turning over its hosting duties as editors graduate or just get fed up, it retains a distinctive atmosphere and an element of randomness that no other series in the city can match. The open mic that night had people you just know (or think, at that particular instant, that you know) are going to really make something of their work, and people you’ll never see again after the night, established poets staying up a little late to share their work with a younger audience and engineers writing surprisingly deft first-time poetry to their girlfriends. It doesn’t get the names the other series’ can draw (though Jon-Paul Fiorentino and Sandra Ridley are its next two features), but it remains the Ottawa series I’m least likely to miss in 2015.

Others: Dave Currie (Factory), Shane Rhodes (A/B), Paul Vermeersch (Arc/Tree), Jeff Blackman (Pirie “Salon” Reading), Andrew Faulkner (VERSeFest), Sue Goyette (VERSeFest), Jenna Jarvis (ottawater #10 launch), Rob Winger (Writers’ Fest), Vincent Colistro (VERSeFest), Souvankham Thammavongsa (VERSeFest)

Upset I Missed: An Accord of Poets, Christian Bök/Sharon Harris, bill bissett

JM’s JaM: listen to just one of the audio clips/YouTube vids embedded above

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Trembling

Here is its crux; that in its trembling before an upraised hand the animal stands closest to human. For there, in a state of anticipation, it awaits the pain, and as a human is, is changed by that waiting. There is in that waiting perhaps the animal’s closest approximation of time, experienced not as a series of moments but as a tension screwing to an unbearable tightness. The body’s answer to the expectation of pain is blind flight into a wildness that is only the false conviction that whether it must ever experience pain is a matter solely within its own determination.

But when, its terror writhing atop its skin, the animal allows trust to turn its instinct to ice, to remain trembling in the shadow of the hand, it enters into the Risk. For the closed hand may contain instead grace. It may contain both pain and grace at once, though the hand is neither. What the hand really grants to the animal is an inexplicable term of reference, that is, that the animal’s pain and its grace are not solely of its own determination but of a negotiation with an outside agent. Though the hand’s behaviour is too complex for the animal to reckon, the animal accepts what in its limited understanding seems to be an order and attempts to behave accordingly.

That the animal does not flee when the hand gathers its power unto itself like a thunderhead is essential to the humanness of its action, but so too is the fact that it trembles. For though it accepts that the pain is not in that instant in its control, it must continue to understand what the hand may contain, and to apply continually that trust it has in its term of reference to its terrified body, or else it becomes something neither animal nor human. Likewise is it to meet the caressing hand, or the hand that holds a gift, without bodily anticipation.

For to meet either pain or grace without trembling is to live in an inhuman certainty that is the domain of those whose conviction is such that it defies the existence of their body, and of those who have been broken utterly:

  • The animal does not want to run from the hand because the handbreadth is the sky coming down, lowering the high pain onto its head
  • The animal comprehends no world where the hand does not feed and stroke before the animal even knows to want, and so its instinct to jump toward the hand’s grace atrophies
  • The animal cannot adapt itself to the hand’s terms, its constant presence, and so consigns itself to death.

And it must be a hand, for it is only humans that domesticate, and to be human is to be at all times in a relationship with the world that is not-one. An animal may have an instinct to submit to domination derived from interactions with its own kind, but an animal quailing before another animal of its own kind, even if it is subsequently killed, is still a relationship of one. Social animals share a purpose; the purpose of the hand and the animal is not shared, just as humans being able to conceive of themselves at the level of global species do not share a purpose.

An animal becomes near human by trembling in fear or hope before a human because it is forced into a social relationship with the inexplicable. But a human has no equivalent relationship, except in that what are recognized as their human qualities are formed in their body as a response to that same crux: that their daily pain and grace are not qualities of their will. We are made human by the shadow of other humans, of we, both singly and in such multitudes that they become like that great unknowable hand; and by nature, upon which we imagine we have set terms to mete out our own discipline and pleasure, that is, terms of order.

It is impossible for humans to exist in a state of nature because though we are from nature and are subject to it, we are not socially of nature. A person, perhaps alone on earth, is conscious of the Risk, and yet it is virtually impossible to choose other than to enter it. We must trust that the inescapable, inexplicable hand contains grace as well as pain. For though pain and grace are predominantly beyond our individual determination, we must attempt to understand the inexplicable terms of ourselves and of nature, however elliptically, that we may make good on what small wedge of agency we do have. And so come myth, and so ritual, so philosophy, so science, so art, comedy, poetry, politics, war, all the cloths and devices of our nakedness below and upon the sky.

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