Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mark McCawley reviews recent chapbooks by Elizabeth Rainer/Michael Blouin, Stephen Brockwell + rob mclennan

Edmonton writer, publisher and reviewer Mark McCawley was good enough to review three recent above/ground press titles on his Fresh Raw Cuts blog. See the original review here. Thanks, Mark!

let lie\
by Elizabeth Rainer and Michael Blouin
above/ground press, 8.5x5.5, 20pp, $4.00 (CAN)
published, January 2012

Excerpts from Impossible Books:  The Crawdad Cantos
by Stephen Brockwell
above/ground press, 8.5x5.5, 20pp, $4.00 (CAN)
published, February 2012

Sextet: six poems from Songs for little sleep,
by rob mclennan
above/ground press, 8.5x5.5, 20pp, $4.00 (CAN)
published, January 2012

The quintessential poet's micro-press, above/ground press — founded and published by poet, writer, and editor Rob McLennan out of Ottawa, Ontario — publishes chapbooks by both newly emerging and established poets alike. What makes above/ground press titles stand apart from other micro-press poetry chapbooks (besides their nondescript covers, that is) is that they offer the reader glimpses into collaborations as well as individual works in progress. It's these glimpses which above/ground gives that makes their titles unique, revealing the process of the poet's composition, their collaborations, as each waltz's their muse along the thin razor's edge of creation.

In let lie\, an excerpt from a collaborative work by Elizabeth Rainer and Michael Blouin, we are given  glimpses into pieces which were written over a period of a year and a half and emailed back and forth:
    to describe it\ I should not ask you when you touch yourself to think of me as I am there no probably this is the very type of thing I should keep to myself that and this is the failure of poetry to do you any kind of justice at all light tapping of my heart punching holes in the sky.

    it would be\ nice for me if you were someone else for a change someone who didn't know me so well my tremors hopes then when we were making love it would all be different once more your ankles up around and there wouldn't be that look on your face him, again.
Here, Rainer and Blouin successfully combine masculine and feminine language and metaphor in an ongoing collaboration which mixes and juxtaposes contrasting identities into a string of textual and contextual and allegorical narratives.

Stephen Brockwell’s Excerpts from Impossible Books: The Crawdad Cantos is the latest installment of Brockwell's ongoing work-in-progress. At times pithy, sometimes brilliant, Brockwell's poems run the entire gamut in this ongoing project. For instance, both this chapbook and the following poem's self-deprecating dark humor reveals Brockwell at his poetic height:

    "Brockwell, you're a fool, thrilled by a sunset
    'beyond words.' The sunset is beyond; but
    beyond words? No. Words for it outpace you.
    God bless impala words you'll never speak."
    Here's what I posted — you can slag it too:

    Watched gorgeous sunset from window on flight
    to LAX. Beyond words. Tried anyway.

    "from Messages from Imaginary Friends: Karikura and the Inarticulate Sunset" 

Lastly, there is the controlled musicality and the experimental narrative quality in rob mclennan's Sextet: six poems from Songs for little sleep, which draws the reader inside by using repeated phrasings of short sentences and brief staccato rhythms:


    The gathering place of something, we. I can't recall. It was I who called, who called, who.

    Watch the moon, full, you must. You must, we. We are watching the full moon, full of something. Was full, of only, possibly ourselves. Only full.

    We were watching the moon we were.

    from "The learning curve that sometimes manages, itself"

All three of these titles offer varying glimpses of excerpts, collaborations, and works-in-progress not found elsewhere by poets just reaching the height of their craft. In these above/ground press chapbooks they practice a high wire literary act. Sometimes failing. More often than not, though, succeeding brilliantly. It takes guts to write without a net, and particularly to publish those early efforts for all to see. Guts, indeed.

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