punchlines by Aaron Tucker
Published by above/ground press, 2013.
After a thorough reading of Aaron Tucker’s new chapbook, the follow-up to his bpNichol Award shortlisted apartments, I felt compelled to go visit my parents. That might seem like an odd reaction to a collection with poem titles like “what did the cowboy say when he found his dog was missing?”, but punchlines’ wallop lies moreso in somber, raw data than its comedic trimmings.
Hypertext warrants mention as an important component to Tucker’s poetic craft – he teaches digital literacy at Ryerson University – but the term also applies quite literally to Tucker’s wit. Poem “did you hear the one about the elephant on the crash diet?” is an encoded series of jokes requiring noun/verb substitution. Elsewhere, he goes so far as to include a poem composed entirely in HTML markup, navigating key themes from punchlines as a sort of syllabus on the hilariously titled “what’s wrong with me?”.
As evinced by his take on evolution (“what do you get if you cross a monkey with some egg whites?”), Tucker takes pleasure in the absurdist view of recognizing that the meaning we seek in our lives is intangible, unattainable. It’s this existential humour that provides the cornerstone of punchlines’ yearning subtext. Here’s “what did the Twitter say to the Facebook?”:
“we propel hyperlink from space to space linger long enough to be
terrified + continue
without ornament unaware of external things.
This dozy indifference between online avatars and real life is something Tucker engages with constantly, whether tossing a “hyperlink” into the melatonin dream-space of “where do fish sleep?” or surveying the impatience and uncertainty of real-time, physical travel in “when is a car not a car?”. In “when is a turk not a turk?” one of these avatars is even modeled as a small man living in poverty, alone but without complaints within Tucker’s smartphone!
Trapped in Tucker’s careful code are recurring themes that alternately feel quite tangible. Montana seems to be real as well as the death of Tucker’s father; both of which are detailed with surreal potency in “why was the camel unhappy?”, a closing poem that necessitates an immediate re-read of punchlines altogether.
One disadvantage to being digitally illiterate is that, several times through now, I’m still theorizing on parts of punchlines that confound me. No matter. The distinct layers of Tucker’s poetry promise a beguiling read that flourishes under the microscope. And if it makes you call your parents, all the better.
Except from “what month are we?”:
“that extreme excess of search terms + status updates
as uncontainable as old couch springs
grain of splinters mixes with cotton stuffing
a desk a set of drawers | | metal of lawn chairs
jut into footholds + the neighbourhood
races each other to the top grabbing spare cushions
always one shelf from summit
we stealthy emerge each night
take one object back for ourselves
reupholster it in French