Friday, May 31, 2013

Recent Reads: Peter F. Yacht Club #18 and Jill Stengel

#18: VERSeFest Special by Peter F. Yacht Club
tether by Jill Stengel

Both titles published by above/ground press, 2013.

Peter F Yacht Club Issue #18

Unlike TREE Reading Series, The Dusty Owl and many other events that swirl Ottawa’s literary calendar, the Peter F. Yacht Club has all these years remained something of a mystery to me. For a time I’d even presupposed that, whatever it was, the prestige of its title alone suggested that I wasn’t meant to know! But the history of the Peter F. Yacht Club was always available – right here, in fact – and while its membership seems a tricky thing to keep track of, its spoils are perfectly tangible. Turns out Peter F. Yacht Club publishes sporadic compilations (another thing I didn’t know!) of work from its burgeoning network and that, if Issue #18 is anything to go by, the prestige of the club’s title is well-earned.

Unveiled in time for VERSeFEST, Issue #18 pulls no punches, enlisting strong pieces by 23 poets who’ve at some point called Ottawa home. Cameron Anstee’s “Late January” opens the weighty 8.5 x 11 issue on a poignant note, stating “I miss every one who leaves this city / and some who remain”. Besides highlighting a chilly theme that reverberates through wintry and memorable entries by Pearl Pirie and Monty Reid, Anstee’s nostalgia echoes vacancies spotting Ottawa’s literary tradition, in which Peter F. Yacht Club plays a convincing microcosm. (As mclennan mentions in his write-up of the Club’s history, when a hardworking writer leaves a place, their footprint tends to vanish as well.)

Whatever desertions have plagued Ottawa’s literary scene, there’s no evidence of vacancy on these pages. Ben Ladouceur’s “Shuttle” zeroes in on the alien struggle of finding the rhythm in somewhere new. William Hawkins’ “In Memoriam” offers a stark tribute that succinctly wrestles beauty and death. Two haunting excerpts of Sandra Ridley’s “Testamonium” (from The Counting House, forthcoming from BookThug this fall) convey the troubled limitations of loyalty and despondence, while Monty Reid’s command of pace and detail renders his excerpt from Intelligence an inquisitive highlight, probing and countering the smarts of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service with his own.

I don’t know how many people have to not know
something before it’s intelligence.
At least one.
I must be the one that makes the smart people

I don’t know if anyone else was watching
11pm, at the Montreal Road entrance, ice fog
clamped around the lights.
I don’t know the what of it, or the risk of the what of it.
But you know what? Around the circumference, fog burns.

Despite the showcase of singular voices, there’s a strange fluidity afoot – be it quality control or some stately muse each author gleaned from their time crossing the Rideau. Either way the selections here are often crushing; Stephen Brockwell’s excerpts from Metonymies: Poems by Objects Owned by Illustrious People and Meghan Jackson’s “star charts” cast profound shadows which compliment each other's distinct approaches to heaviness. Even if it’s a reunion on paper and not in person, the “support group” ambition that instated the Peter F. Yacht Club ten years ago continues to bear considerable fruit.

tether by Jill Stengel

Besides that collective’s behemoth offering, I’ve been spending some time with Davis, California based writer Jill Stengel’s latest chapbook. Composed of one fragmented long poem and split into sparse stanzas rendering most pages half blank, tether could easily be misinterpreted – or misread entirely – as a quick read. But it’s a deceiving one as well; I could breeze through tether in five mindless minutes if I didn’t feel so compelled to re-read it as soon as I’ve finished. What Stengel has unearthed is a time capsule of infant activity; those recess periods, however indifferent to history, in which we prodded our social and physical limitations.

Such a theme can be appreciated by anyone trapped in the hectic realm of adulthood. After all, nostalgia’s an easy attraction. Yet tether’s such a convincing time-warp because Stengel stirs nostalgia in her readers without wrestling with it herself. By dealing with senses in the developmental stage, Stengel’s abstract details concerning texture and colour resonate on a grander scale than any backward-glancing melancholy could.

one bounce
the feel of rubber
studded with asphalt flecks
one bounce
to spin
or hang
either way
even with panties showing
on dress days

The euphoria of simple awareness – feeling and testing one’s surroundings – is communicated as much through minutia as through motion, running and swooping amidst the confusion of made-up games. As tether copes with the attention span and abandon of carefree id, there’s a growing self-awareness communicating through broken parenthesis. Stengel closes on a satisfying mantra but those breakdowns in momentum offer tether’s best spots to chew on, conveying the confusion of adulthood, reminiscing. 

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