Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Recent Reads: november poems by Joe Blades

november poems by Joe Blades (dusie kollektiv, 2015)

Comprehension, interpretation and imagination get a lot of acreage to roam in poetry, where any one stanza or word placement can serve to send two readers into wildly different directions. As someone who reviews, I occasionally find myself preoccupied by my place in this spectrum  What am I missing? Is my impression anywhere near the author's goal? And does that even matter? That mostly subconscious process surfaced when first reading Joe Blades’ november poems, and actually had me peek, cover to cover, for an abstract on the text at hand. No luck, just a bio. And yet, on second reading Joe Blades’ biography subs in almost flawlessly, as these poems chronicle a few Novembers of Blades’ life in Fredericton. This might sound like an obvious summary, given the title, but the text isn't quite so plainspoken.

Zeroing in on context is part of the challenge here, but it’s also part of adapting to Blades’ style. Interesting aside: You won’t find the word “the” in any of these poems, and its absence gives his voice a sort-of primitive immediacy. More impactful though is his hesitation to commit to “I”, which combined with his rocky maneuvering of diction, disguises just how many of these pieces are from a subjective standpoint. With “poem 16 (not counting haiku)” I had to ask myself whether ashes paper & beans is a radio show Blades hosts. With “november again” and the stanza “shaved bald men may be hiding / something with their removed / head hair — see them in cafes / and stores — am decidedly not one”, I felt slightly pressured to google photos of Blades’ mane. Such research may sound arbitrary to the point of distraction but I found it compulsory to understanding the author’s intent.

“november poems” hinges on the assumption that whoever is reading Joe Blades probably knows a bit about Joe Blades. Otherwise, it gives the reader an opportunity to get to know a bit about Joe Blades. Neither of these outcomes is off-putting — I mean, I’m totally going to check out his radio show — but that clause often becomes the key to feeling out Blades’ poetic space. And sometimes it still isn’t enough; “pressed glass bowls wrapped in newspaper” coalesces two journeys (to a hospice and, perhaps, a museum attraction?) where the contrast of bustling crowds and a static nursing home provides an almost philosophical sentiment: “my exit makes / room for you”. The poem is already loaded with dislocated imagery when this third stanza drops:

two kids glom onto legs
one lifts gun-long arm
reaches out to stop and
pull close like a hostage
taker to take back
gun and holster
while saying you
cannot kill dead sheep
smiles and walks away

Blades’ ability to blur a clinical space with a prop museum is masterful but the above excerpt represents a coup de grĂ¢ce each time I attempt it. Is the "gun-long arm" a crutch, or an actual replica? Is “you cannot kill dead sheep” a reference both Google and I cannot recall, or straight-up autobiography from a moment? I’m being withheld some crucial detail.

Though occasionally cryptic and fragmentary, Blades keeps the November motif fresh by marking its domestic and academic trespasses (in “broken granite cross on green” and “body ache blues”, respectively). “corner chang(es/ing)”, which is featured in full below, illustrates another type of slow crystallization, wherein the scene we find ourselves becomes rooted, geographically and personally. Call it scenery around the elusive “I” or a vast focal parenthesis grouping various November trials, but the poems I enjoy most are those that offer a guide along with the acreage.

corner chang(es/ing)

not just rhubarb path — come out!
come out! from under big poisonous leaves —
maple tree and cedar overgrown
with wild grapevine and grass — open
space between parsonage (or whatever
free-will baptists called their minister’s
residence) with gingerbread eaves and
what little remained after 2 july 2009
teardown and cleanup/removal
of their ex-church at 200 york
street fredericton new brunswick:
completed in 1861 before con/
federation (dominion of canada);
converted to apartments in 1970
(with rainbows painted on
original church mouldings
and bird skeleton on wire
in attic’s mechanical space);
burnt   from top floor down
in cold rainy night fire early
morning tuesday 2 april 2009
twenty-two tenants forced
on to street then into temporary
shelter — some taken by red
cross to fredericton inn
check-in before dawn — all
of that and a little basement
rubble removed and replaced
by fresh-crushed rock with survey
stakes to plot new building
to situate it within where 
home of almost eleven years
stood almost one hundred fifty
years (witness streetside elm trees)
and that corner is achanging
like it hasn't changed since
long   long ago …

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