Never again, need you ask: "What would explorer Samuel de Champlain think of his New France, 400 years after he established its first settlements?" Other Brief Discourses chronicles Champlain's less-than-triumphant return to Quebec in the 21st century (laws of space and time suspented), as "translated" and rendered poetic verse by writer and stage performer Abby Paige.
The past-meets-present premise, while not novel, is a challenging perspective to attempt in a book of poetry -- for that, Paige deserves admiration. There are times, though, when she wavers in her presentation of the journey's finer details, leaving Champlain's comprehension of the present day seeming markedly uneven. In early verses, as he arrives in Montreal, Champlain appears to possess preexisting knowledge of bus stations, billboards, big box stores and baggage carousels; a lack of wonder is evident. In a later poem ("VII. The Metro"), seemingly astonished, the only words Champlain can find to describe a subway train are: "a snake with eyes alight" -- finally, the sort of viewpoint you'd expect from a time-traveling tourist. Though the focus in Other Brief Discourses is on Champlain's transplantation in our present, the most imrpessive poems in Paige's collection find Champlain in his own era, lost in reverie, or caught up in dreams about the life he left behind (from "XVIII. A dream"): "We are fishing in the Algonquin fashion / with spears. I am the spear piercing / the flesh of the rainbow trout. I am the trout / whose flesh is hauled aboard."
Also intriguing, here, is Paige's insertion of herself into these poems as Champlain's street-wise guide. Through the explorer's accounts of their interactions, we get what feels like an inside look at Paige's day-to-day life and her opinion of the city she lives in. At times, hers seems like the more interesting tale.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Abby Paige's chapbook, Other Brief Discourses, is reviewed in Broken Pencil #60
Scott Bryson was good enough to review Abby Paige's chapbook, Other Brief Discourses (2013) in Broken Pencil #60. Thanks, Scott! Copies of Other Brief Discourses are still available, here.