Thursday, May 09, 2013

Recent Reads: rob mclennan and Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Trace, by rob mclennan
A Little Slash at the Meadow by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Both titles published by above/ground press, 2013.

It takes a unique understanding of one’s surroundings to write Trace, -- and not just a confident assessment of the working gears maintaining its infrastructure or social climate. Trace, documents, among other things, the character of a city within the city; those remnants of previous settlements cast aside or scrubbed anew. And who better to sift through Ottawa’s former selves than rob mclennan, the man responsible for writing Ottawa: The Unknown City? Utilizing this knowledge to uncover layers of architectural overhauls and namesake changes, mclennan sustains a presence in these poems as a witness and co-discoverer; part of the “we” that walks firmly footed through changing streets. Here's [a circumstance, a western link]:

“We vocalize what this is: human. Ninety-six foot wide concession,
road. Separating Sparks and Besserer. The west was Wellington, the
east, Rideau. We would have our gardens. The rope lends lazily, descends.
Death weighs, no mass. Possibly, our rhetorics. The heart, plus this
alone. A mass of modern bus and antiquated streetcar. The power of
an average. Slanting, ruin. Heritage crumbles, the fold of which inside.
Trace, nearly obliterated. Configurations from a stain. It is one, or it is
other. I am meaning the opposite.”

Readers with a relationship to our nation’s capital will quickly connect with Trace, but not every poem exists at such a particular crossroads as the above example. Perhaps the most beautiful poem to the contrary, [entirety, the edge of sky, scrapes] exists in the intangible: “A hush of limelight, walking. Softest, luminescent green. Reflecting, kettle. Diverse objects, spread. Reflecting off your half-tones. A silence, not imposed but opened. Loose bone in tightly-packed. Aground.” Elsewhere mclennan mentions a crossing-bridge but they could just as easily be navigating the ruins of a beach. In any case, the details are stimulating enough to reassess how this peaceful chapter fits into a city’s broader character (not to mention its modernization, a focus that mclennan trusts to his readers' opinions).

Those of us unwilling to geek-out over mclennan’s regional question-marks should at least take note of his stylistic shift toward the prose-poem. Gone are the line-breaks that flowed like tributaries in so many of mclennan’s chapbooks; in Trace, he contains his findings to single, compact paragraphs. Both a quick compass-reading and a densely arranged inquiry on heritage and authenticity, Trace, gives us considerable pause to ponder our own disappearing history.

“I want the poem to squeeze
your arm like the blood pressure bag.”

The above statement may as well stand in for Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s top objective: to compress a lot of ideas into one crushing poem. That’s how A Little Slash at the Meadow operates, a visceral and hyperactive slab of free-verse that oscillates between seedy and imposing, funny and poignant.

If this review is beginning to read like a disclaimer, it’s as much a warning of Wilkinson’s approach as it is of his content. In other words, beware of gaping transitions that pit one stand-alone sentiment against another, which then accumulate and challenge any persisting narrative elements. As with any habit-forming drug, the key is to stick with the present chaos of Wilkinson's text and avoid dwelling on the confusing patches along the way. (Trust me, you'll want to retread later anyway.) So hang in there: A Little Slash at the Meadow is intended to be read as a whole, in one sitting, and that’s surprisingly easy to do once you realize: the experience is getting there.

“That strangler sure is good at finding abandoned buildings.
Yes & very good.
I make lists & cross off the items as I complete them.
I do this with a line & an x both.
Am I so scared of being alone with the selves I was?
An old acquaintance tries to fuck me on his dining room floor.
Oh, I want that Bloodbuzz Ohio suit.
Let us un-acquaint ourselves.
I still like it when old folks, rural folks smoke in their homes on tv.
Click between Dog the Bounty Hunter & Hoarders.
Dog & Hoarders.
What is desire but some pleasure in careening.
Depends on how you like it to cadence.”

Even if we can safely assume that the entire disjointed piece unfurls in the hotel room by the sea (mentioned on page one), A Little Slash at the Meadow doesn’t separate advancements in Wilkinson’s narrative from his incorrigible inner monologues. The collision of these happenings often finds each ricocheting, unresolved, but occasionally they cap off memorably:

“It’s alright you didn’t write back,
unless you still want to?
I’m on the computer just to see
if anything I don’t want to go to
invited me out to turn down.”

It’s one thing to throw clever curveballs at your readership (and suffice it to say – sticking with the baseball metaphors here – not all of these ones cross the plate) but another thing entirely to maintain a good measure of quality impulsiveness throughout a chapbook. And it’s because Joshua Marie Wilkinson keeps his audience at a playful distance that when he connects, A Little Slash at the Meadow proves well worth the trip.

“A tree limb hanging almost into your soup, budding
orangey & casting a sunlight spider’s
thread to your face. It’s morning –
your blouse is open a bit
saying look here, look off
look, look off.”

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