Friday, January 30, 2009
Guernica Editions Inc
52 pages, $15.00
Jim Johnstone’s first book of poetry, The Velocity of Escape, while anorexic to the touch, is full-bodied with muscular visceral verse. The collection exudes the ambience of a florescent-flooded coroner’s o.r. populated with living entities.
Johnstone is peculiarly armed with an M.Sc. in Reproductive Physiology which inhabits his vision and displays itself throughout this volume. He has an uncanny ability to extract and examine our human predicament from his unique residence in the unit verse.
On my first readthru I noticed that Johnstone has a fetish. It’s unclear whether the fetish sent him into lab work, or that it developed from his intimacy with the sushi under our skin. His most popular words were ‘blood' (used 12 times) followed with ‘wrist’ (used five times), which often go hand in hand, a sort of twinning, which also threads through this volume.
In Irving Layton’s forward to The Tightrope Dancer, he wrote, “The poet, either through genes or genius, is poised on a rope stretched tautly between sex and death. The major poet dances on the tightrope; the minor poet walks warily across it.”
Johnstone is a poet who confidently walks a tightrope stretched between the dead and the living, between tissue and tears, between blood, bone, bruises and “you.” Interestingly, he has de-gendered much of his poetry, minimizing the use of she he for the more ubiquitous, more generic you, your, yours.
Aesthetic distance, detachment, conscious or not, Johnstone cleverly depersonalizes a good portion of his poetry, as if his mind goes through the cleansing procedures before wielding the scalpel to cut flesh or pen inkscars on paper. His poems have an austere precision which makes me feel queasy; it happens when truth is adroitly cut to the bone.
I especially enjoyed The Afternoon’s Cadaver, a poem discomfiting as an autopsy report. I can see the glint in his eye gleaming on the blade as it slices into a human was. He makes me vividly aware of my personal destiny which is closer to me than to him, I’m much older. Johnstone makes it clear how I will be tabled, punctured, drained, latexed fingers prophylatically protected against a stew of potential infectiousness indelicately dancing duties on insensitive flesh.
this afternoon’s cadaver can’t shrink away
from the approach of my blade,
destiny clearly outlined in black marker
an instruction to cut here, scissors rifling
the pages of vanity fair
for a collage of heads, neckties, and shoulders.
flesh yields to my first incision like wet sand,
identity receding from your throat
in a tide of cracked bone,
crumpled paper glued above vocal chords,
the beginnings of collapse
in a sound proof room.
there’s something fierce in your preservation,
the burn of crude formaldehyde
in inadequate skin, the story you tell
when opened up: there were cigarettes after sex,
nights you refused to kiss
saying “i want to leave” again and again.
Johnstone’s poetry brings me to cool places, addresses me in chilling science, reminds me of all the warm things inside my sagging stooping self.
The poem. Grasshopper, describes a night out with ‘you’ in a nearby wood on a calm evening, a bonfire, some smokes, whiskey, laughter and then,
the snap of your ankle
bones releasing along a break
you collapsing to the sober ground
Johnstone is the white-jacketed poet witnessing
understand the journey
have travelled beneath
your skin like an unlovely
In another poem, Johnstone describes how
the needle plunges down
sleep crawls into his arm
with beads of anaesthetic
his body is weighted
to cement blocks
bound and shoved
Johnstone inhabits areas of life and death as if they were good neighbours with each other and in the marvellous poem, Conjoined Dreams, he brings it to us in an all too uncomfortably familiar way.
separating the dead
from the next miracle.
There is a thread running through this anthology of poems – twins. They appear often. They have tattooed themselves deeply into Johnstone’s sensibilities. They are the miracle and death is a veil away.
Johnstone brings us into cool rooms, windowless rooms, bright white light, stainless steel, scientific jargon subjected to poetry. He is the cool ghoul that brings us to understand that he works among plumbers and carpenters of flesh, a place where maimed miracles are restored to walk amongst us again.
Johnstone’s poetry brings us to the maternity window where we press our faces all googly-eyed to the glass, then turns our heads to the mortuary window for our destiny.
Not once did I ever imagine that an autopsy report could be poetic, but Johnstone does it with acute aplomb. I’m looking forward to more from this unique voice in poetry. For Jim I dedicate this pinwheel:
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By Dennis Lee
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Buckle up. The ride through YESNO is dangenerous; expect side blindswipes. It’s the perilous spinball dropping exhilarhausted into the tilthole of obliviannus horribilus.
My second reading of YESNO provided me a bit of grip on what was happening. The poetry was compact, intense, language wound up tightassed for a wingshot at a velocity in XXXcess of 100 metaphors a moment, words dereformed, deregulated concepts, images plattering on the wingshield of conventilation; Lee’s imagination comes at you like fuckflock of furies.
Duck! Incoming “sonic contusions”, “geodyssey”, “elderlore”, “toxiholic”, “cosmochaos”, “biophobe boogie”, “hearticulate improv”. Impact, umphact, after hairpin swerves every when and where. His poems ricochet off meaning. It’s jabberwonky for uncynicalistas, as in the poem “ave” which is a slobberstew of rubverbish and bilestys.
“How surd a blurward stut. How
… borbo of cacohosanna; of smew of
beluga of animavegetal pibroch --
mixmuster of raggedy allsorts, syl
labic in habitat soup
legacy toddlers, of
old soul avatar orphans”
Briefly, Lee emerges to do an e e cummings pirouette through meanfields of explosive poetential but he does it in the shade, a dark shade cast by crescent moonlight. The poem “noful” resonates with a gothawful tunetude:
“Sohib, go slow
tread light in the food chain
…the very air stinks of ambush”
And then Lee mugs you with bare-fisted meaning as in the poem “googoo”:
“whacked grammer of terra
cognita. Old lingo
aphasic, nuworldspeak mute
mutant mutandis --
aleph? whose googoo? which syllab? Test-living what
Schizoparse of am?”
This book is not for anyone. It is certainly NOT for The People. Actually, it’s hardly for anyone at all, except for the endangered species of cognoscentipedes, illuministas & other bloatbrains who are in the YESKNOW. Lee’s “lingotectonics” are lingotectoxic for The People. Laurie Anderson referred to her own compositions as “difficult music;” So it will go with Lee -- difficult poetency. It is poetry by the few for the few and farout in the twain between.
I have thoroughly enjoyed where Lee took me, and I am sure to visit him again, into the primavisceral to fullflopfrash in the original biodebris of our own evodilutionary imaginations crossing from mallville to swampburb and back.
Lee is indeed the “bupkus quixote” tilting at “corporate mindmills” with spermtaneous “impromptible knots of rebeing” leaving us “wordless in blinker blank.”
I love how Lee detonates nouns into verb debris. The opening line of this book states, “If it walks like apocalypse…” then Lee goes all primal dancing the apoetcalypso of language.
Here are memorable moments from Day 3 of what the UN considers to be progress in the effort to combat racism:
The European Union agreed to hold a Durban II only if it was limited to assessing the original Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. This EU "red-line" has now been thoroughly trashed. Syria said: "If we repeat the DDPA then there is no point to holding a review conference." The EU is still sitting in their seats, content to eat crow one more time.
Western countries were constantly put on the defensive:
Proposed provision: "one of the principle reasons fomenting the tide of racism is the growing increase in the right wing extremist political discourse, including in some of the most liberal pluralistic societies."
Pakistan: "Wherever people are doing something wrong - whether freedom of expression, counterterrorism policies or abuse of national security policies, the legal action which has not been taken against them amounts to immunity."
Freedom of expression came under attack numerous times:
Iran: "People...say that existing law doesn't allow us to prevent abuse of freedom of expression...Immunity... is there."
Cuba: "Include negative abuse of freedom of expression...Insert "...violence by the media and national security forces."
Syria: "We are not talking about freedom of expression. What we mean is...the abuse of the right to freedom of expression and not the freedom of expression itself. So we distinguish between the two notions. Difference between the right to freedom and freedom of expression itself. We mean abuse of the right."
Pakistan: " We are not talking about freedom of expression, but impunity that has been exercised on the use of these freedoms which creates discriminatory behavior in those societies."
Monday, January 26, 2009
Dewar’s poetry is as accessible as a jar of jam in a pantry; he is a poet with a day job. It is from this life that Dewar has woven poems as rich and beautiful as a silk tie, or as robust as an angler’s bucket of bass destined for the bellies of his children.
I am especially fond of his poem, Irving Layton, (my mentor) which I like to imagine ignited Dewar into the wide-open whirled of poetry with lusty abandonment; “When I first met him I was young, a boner with a body attached…” I suspect that has been the case for Dewar ever since.
Dewar is the host of the monthly poetry reading series, Hot-Sauced Words, where he engages the audience with “lusty abandonment” into the saucy wonders of poetry-play. It is transparent to see that poetry arouses Dewar, his own and others when they pass into his enlarged circumference. He is naughtily erotic without succumbing to the precious or pornographic. Dewar reflects a tenderness of spirit sans fragility.
When he writes on any subject, it is from his direct experience, as if his bones, blood and body, all sensitive, the world sensitive -- everything that touches him, he touches. There is no show-off here -- hey look everyone -- look what my imagination can do. One needs only to read him to see what he can do, and it is formidable.
He has that indulgent weakness of poets -- to invent words, but does so appropoetically, submerging them within the poem with such suppleness that it is noticed as a glint in the eye, rather than a glaring spotlight.
Poet, Allan Briesmaster, accurately portrays Dewar’s collection of poetry as a smorgasbord. It is indeed a nutritious read, fat free, yet deliciously spicy and robustly healthy to the spirit. Dewar’s poetry is lush without being extravagant. It is the kind of poetry that I would love to invite to the dinner table of friends and family.
Leaving The Edge is a poem that gave me chills, perhaps because I had a similar experience, the immediate termination of a future, or mutilation thereof, medical machinery, cool rooms, soothing personnel and in Dewar’s case “the pain in my chest like a bus full of everyone I have wounded tipping over on me.” Dewar describes the near-death experience with calmness, not as a movement into The Light as movies portray, but that the paddles exploded him out of the blackness into the floresensual light of our day-to-day existence.
I have carried this book around me in my backpack for several weeks now, showing it to a couple friends who have never bought a book of poetry, nor likely ever will, but it is important that they hear this voice, well, important to me to share something. The book contains an amount of wealth that sharing it doesn’t deplete it, but earns interest.
He shoots! He scores! It’s a shut-out against mediocrity. Art rules!
I am referring to Andrew Pink’s art show at La Galerie Espace, 4484 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal. The show is on until the end of this week. Entitled Cold War, it is a series of paintings depicting hockey players in iconic action postures, the way Canadians have been perceiving them since our Cream of Wheat childhoods.
Big deal, you might say, and you’d be correct to think such based on such a prima facie description. After all, many of know of the iconic image of The Goalie painted by Ken Danby. Pink utilizes this hockey iconography in an entirely direction.
The direction is so seductively and brilliantly simple that it amazing that no one has ever explored this dimension of hockey: cold war propaganda iconography. Pink has rendered the hockey players with generic clothing -- no corporate teams are referenced. There is only the need to depict two opponents, distinguished from each other by the colour of the jersey and five-pointed star on their chest.
They are portrayed as warriors, proud, noble, strong. Pink explained that the faces he utilized were largely an amalgamation of actual hockey players and people he knew. Two paintings did utilize the typical Soviet socialist realism face, the square jaw, jutting chin, uplifted head, bloated pride and they were effective propaganda.
The paintings were contextualized as propaganda posters, each image blazoned with minimal motivational sans serif words. The colours were primary and loud, edged enough to make an effective blend of photo-realism and illustration. Interestingly, Pink portrays the hockey players with less protective gear than what is currently used on the ice today. This adds a touch of nostalgic retro to the paintings.
The NHL seems to have sacrificed the commonality that hockey once had, for the pumped up cash cow that it has become. We are propagandized to believe that (Our City) team is ours and represents (our city) us. It does not. Each team is explicitly a corporation. It is not a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. It has become like a game between Pepsi and Coke, or Chrysler and Ford. Rinks are filled with fans of a commercial product.
It is very telling that the only real hockey being played now is during the Winter Olympics, where hockey is played with all that the propaganda asks of us: valour, pride, skill, heart and soul. It produces a victory that an entire nation can rise up and from the pit of their soul, enjoy the ephemerality of being Number 1.
Hockey is a game, a proxy for war. It is far preferable to the lethal thing. It’s rough, fast, dangerous, and exhilarating. Wouldn’t be a better world is we could all turn in our AK47,s, rocket launchers, missiles, stealth bombers, MIGs, etc. and be armed only with hockey sticks.
With this exhibit, Andrew Pink has pulled off an elegant hat-trick. He shot. He scored. Big time.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Wal-Martyr was performed last fall at the launch of issue #10 of the literary journal, Misunderstandings Magazine, which had published my poem Apoetcalypse Now, a cleverly altered (poeticized) version of one of the iconic scenes in Francis Ford Coppolla’s movie masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.
Livewords hosted the event at Cervejaria @ 842 College Street West, Toronto. Livewords is a monthly poetry performance venue run by poet Edward Nixon who emcees with unbridled wit. He, and another compatriot poet, James Dewar, who hosts another monthly poetry venue called Hot-Sauced Words, provide a vital platform for young and emerging poets to cut their teeth.
For the Wal-Martyr performance, I first primed the audience, consisting of poets, poetry lovers, poetry sluts, a couple prose-heads and an out-of-town municipal politician by overdosing on FREE SPEECH pharmaceuticals. With a call of “Do it!” from the audience, their unwitting complicity opened the way for the performance of The Wal-Martyr.
They were poets. By their very nature as inspired wordniks who daily thrash and splash in the sparkling fluids of language, they are naturals for the fruit of FREE SPEECH. Poets are not known to be conformists to the dogma du jour, the orthodox zeitgeist, and especially to the coercive confinements enforced by bureaucraps in the name of The State.
The Wal-Martyr is undeniably offensive. It was composed with that intent. It was designed to be delivered with profound contempt towards every person within hearing range. The script (below) contained words, phrases and expressions that a reasonable person would regard as hateful. The hatred was directed towards an identifiable group – kuffars,
How could it be otherwise? After all, I was portraying a suicide martyr. For a couple years I had immersed myself in the viewing of many snuff videos of beheadings, videos of last will and testaments of actual suicide martyrs, and audio tapes of their immediate supporters.
None of the above had been sourced from Western capitalist-controlled media. They were sourced from the web sites that islamaniacs set up to proudly display their lethal hatreds and as a recruiting magnet for their cause.
It took me several viewings over several weeks to enure myself to eye-witness and ear-witness videos of beheadings. A lifetime of Hollywood prepping in the horror/Tarentino genre had not vaccinated me against the full repulsivemess of the real thing.
The beheadings were not accomplished with a single swipe of a scimitar. There was considerable sawing before the head was detached and held aloft as a proud John-The-Baptist trophy. Invariably the ubiquitous “Allahu Akbar” was called out during the actual butchering.
All of these deathniks reminded me of the nazi brownshirts of Europe, Pinochet’s death squads, Stalin’s smersh agents. Those regimes were driven by a political totalitarian ideology. Similarly, these suicide martyrs are driven by theological totalitarianism. Their enemy is the profoundly hated kuffar.
I performed The Wal-Martyr with that in mind. The audience was full of kuffars. They got the performance they deserved.
Edward Nixon was graciously diplomatic on Livewords website to describe my performance as “controversial.” It would have been more accurate to have described it as an offensive and lurid expression of hate.
It is one thing to perform The Wal-Martyr in the protective context of a poetry reading venue; it is quite another to do it in the public domain, albeit with a broader and more porous context – Nuit Blanche.
Nuit Blanche, September 29-30, 2007, is a dusk to dawn extravaganza of avante garde art displays throughout the downtown core of Toronto. I had spent several evening hours touring many sites, when it occurred to me to go home, dress up in The Wal-Martyr outfit and go out for a stroll down the very crowded Queen Street West.
The Wal-Martyr holds a beaver hostage in Trinity-Bellwoods Park
Needless to say, this spontaneous, unofficial and highly provocative act was a big surprise to me. After all, I was 60 years old for god’s sake, and here I was upstaging some young upstarts. I went in and out of galleries, gathering a small entourage of curious and paparazzi. I was dared to enter Atom Egoyan’s club, Camera, because they were screening a film about the Gaza strip. I entered, walked up to the screen, faced the surprised audience and did a version of the Gaza strip tease.
When I got to the Drake Hotel, a police car rounded the corner. I dropped the faux detonator from my hand and opened each pocket in my suicide vest to reveal that they contained heavy electrical transformers and that all the wires and cables were attached to a ball point pen “detonator.”
There was a bit of radio chatter. The police said they had been receiving reports about me. Once they were assured that I was a poet doing my thing, I wished well and released. On my own I removed the balaclava, walked home, thinking to myself: “How great is this. I was NOT shot. What a great city! What a great country! Poetry is Poetency indeed.”
I later learned that CBC radio had been talking up my little terrorist excursion and NOW magazine did considerable coverage of my free expression, Night of the Living Bankers, written by the talented poet, Robert Priest.
Will The Wal-Martyr be coming to a neighbourhood near you? Only the muse knows.
general all purpose unbelievers
I am your terrorist for tonight
I am a weapon of Hamas destruction,
a mani-infestation of Mohammadness of the Ku Klux Koran
I am here to blow you away
with the force of my faith
You Children of Crusaders think you’ve got smart bombs
I am a smart bomb
I can loiter, backtrack, choose my moment
Your smart bombs cost millions
I cost the liberation of my soul
You are a stupid people
You Children of Crusaders think you have stealth bombers invisible to radar
I am a stealth bomber,
an invisible minority
I can penetrate your insecurity systems, enter subways, discos, buses,
Your stealth bombers cost billions
I cost the liberation of my soul
You are a stupid people
Norad cannot detect me
even though I am in your schools, your parks, your malls, your burbs
NATO cannot stop me
though it is the world’s greatest gang with its fly-by bombings & inconsequential collateral
You are a stupid people.
You love to live
We love to die
You love your bonds to the temporal
We love our wings to the eternal
You kill to live & make hell on earth
We kill to earn life in heaven
We kill to purify the earth of infidelity,
the AbomiNations of Western wickedmess & Guantanamo Ghettoes
Your democrazies have liberated licentiousmess
the widespread eagled dishonour of women with their gynecological generosities
with the perversonality of homosexual culture
that you want to shove up our culture with the Uniperversal Declaration of Unhuman Rites
I am of the people of the God Squad
who will avenge your idolatries and idollartries.
We will bring down all your Manhatten man hatin' towering boners of banality.
Your sons say,
“Daddy, I want to be pathetically correct when I grow up.”
Our sons say,
“Father, I want to be a Wal-martyr when I blow up”
Your sons say,
“I want to ejaculate.”
Our sons say,
“I want to detonate.”
I am an apostle of the Universal Declaration of God's Rights
I am a weapon of Hamas destruction
I am here to blow you away with the force of my faith
I am the price of your freedom
And I will make you pay
God is the greatest!
Friday, January 23, 2009
Organizers have announced that the First International Festival of Poetry of Resistance will take place in Toronto April 24 to 30. The Festival will “promote opposition to a culture of war, violence and greed and to end racism and discrimination.”
Monday, January 19, 2009
I’m not referring to the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. It’s the Star of David equated to the National Socialist swastika.
The Canadian media declined to reproduce for the edification of its sensitive readers the Mohammed bomb cartoon because it offended an invulnerable majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world.
The Canadian media approved the reproduction for the edification of its insensitive readers the Star of David / swastika because it offends the vulnerable minority of 14 million Jews in the world.
Something is very disproportionate here. How many editorialistas in Canada condemned Israel for its disproportionate response to the chronic launch of weapons of Hamas destruction? The same media fails to recognize the disproportionate hate propaganda on the streets of Canada in recent weeks.
Proportionality is in favour of Israel in terms of body counts and in terms of military arsenal. Proportionality is in disfavour of Israel in terms of the most important element of conflict: propaganda.
It is the unrelenting delegitimizing of Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself, the unrelenting corrosion of diminishing the horror of the holocaust, especially by individuals who belong to a people who never had a stake or experience in the depth of evil that the holocaust represents. To these shallow pernicious individuals, the holocaust is nothing more than a political epithet.
The political left is loud on issue of the disproportionality of Israel’s response to the weapons of Hamas destruction, but it is perniciously silent about the decades-long disproportionality of the United Nation’s treatment of Israel. The UN human rights system has only one standing body dedicated to a specific people – Palestinians – and the continual criticism of only one UN member state – Israel.
All members of the UN are full members of a Regional Group except Israel, in spite of the fact that the UN Charter promises the “equal rights of nations large and small.”
In 2007 the UN Human Rights formally criticized Israel on 161 occasions. That placed it in first place. (This has been going on year after year after year.) Second place was Sudan which was named 61 times, half as much as Israel. Let us note that Sudan is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the ethnic cleansing of millions, slavery, torture, etc, ad nauseam.
This chronic disproportionalism led to the anti-Semitic hate-fest in 2001 known as Durban. Stay tuned for a more violent anti-Semitic hatefest in Geneva this coming April when Son of Durban is scheduled to take place. Coming soon to the European Theatre near and dear, brownshirts wearing kafiyahs replicating kristallnacht.