Tag Archives: New Star Books

Maxine Gadd: Subway under Byzantium


Subway Under Byzantium: Poems, 1988-1996
Vancouver: New Star Books, 2008
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it’s only Saddam is mad. oh, Max, they say, thinking yu know what they
mean this time          go meek as a lamb bred to roast on a sunday.          the
next thing yu know
they’ve got yr liver on a hook
flying in the breeze to snag
steel blue pterodactyls
      —from “Boatload to Atlantis”

          I met Maxine Gadd at my KSW reading in Vancouver last year. I didn’t know her poetry then, but nudged by Jordan Scott, I dove into her work and with a jolt of excitement recognized an edgy poetic voice that would be equally at home exploring the Gothic underbelly of the Deep South—Louisiana poet Jessica Freeman comes to mind as a counterpart, like Flannery O’Connor to Alice Munro.
          But regardless of that ring of kindred Southern irony in my ear as I read her poetry, I’d be a Gadd aficionado. Below are a few gems from Gadd’s 2008 collection, Subway Under Byzantium.

ferry weather feeling

ferry weather feeling
konked by a head-on collision
carroted into trans-substations
bad ice
agitated pre-sys-bitarian volcanic subtext

where do yu go to pay yr bills
little while flowers like flour over the wall
styrofoam lawnmowers

ok, we made a loop
now start hooking
 
 
for starchild

sticks and stones, bricks and bones; hated history
twittering a transcendent chant on the bridge
over the murky dawn
laying down a route that’s a rout
roar humbly on dear pack-lovers
tearing apart various entities
configurating rain fr ten a.m.

mud forever, fervent misery
knowing yr bred out diamond
suit ya fine
this little hole
        lined with
        reeds
 
 
Lac La Lack

is it a puddle yu jump in to splash the dry friends yu want as lovers
is it a dark pool into which houses dissolve in the infrared eyes of dogs and deer
is it a black lagoon with hieroglyphs spinning laughter
is it the blue green lantern of a pulp mill feeding the fish
about the blue about the green about to yellow about to redden the wail
the coyotes avoid,
that i wld avoid
if only the lonely
could park wild with a full deck of golden oldies
eh, yeah
fear of the old frontier, my deer
the fresh thing that’s happened to man and disappeared

its surely yr own deep liquid drained by the dry gulch of history
salt crusted around yr eyes but yr here at the lake, placed
to meet the tribes and sixty year old tourists not so different from yourself
as to clarify a Greek under the pines

a reputation away hang shiny cookies of thought
and just below the surface of emerald jelly
drowned theoreticians, smile up, fascinated still

sylph sylvie sits on rocks and combs her hair
a truckdriver buckles in the dark
grabs onto a green light hanging over the highway
and stops, leaving the truck on the centre line he jumps out
leaving the door open, goes to the lake
pours oil on troubled waters
relieves himself in it
calls it his queen
 
 
Subway Under Byzantium

IN AND OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF THE POOR, THE
        MARQUISE OF MAD MARCHE
demands good cookin, the bodies of the children and
“the poor just love it:go
wee wee wee wee wee weeeee
WE WE WE WE WE
            WE

we

(ah, oui)

love fingering our dream time, lifting it, high and dry
as the bird hung out on the wire, befallen
into the heat of our veins, in the subway under byzantium
teeming with Russian spies of love in each clean canadian house
hiding under the leopard skin tails of Great Aunt Ida
talking thru the night / talking to the night

here is an inheritance / snowballs light up the balls

still, they’re trying to do us in
they have fled the ditches with lilies that will eat us and all our crap
meld, marl us into mold, light and furry like
fairy hair and
merry
malty
we’ve already flown

Secret

we share this little secret
bergamot and eggs in the bottomless abyss
great to be so faithful

my lies open to the white
organized perpetuity
foolish gaze

truck stops on a giant spiderweb
the lazy warehouse
of the lost dog

yark my shoes, Jack
i’m as woozy as sedge
mind chimes to chizzy tiers

wild deer ness
once open for the armed
as i with spam

next spring yr tripudiating thru gnarled trees
the sweet breath of fungus
hauling yu down

yu break up
safe and sucked and hungry
and spent

 


 

Camille Martin

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he-you-i: Who’s thinking, anyway?

Review of Every Day in the Morning (Slow) by Adam Seelig
Vancouver: New Star Books, 2010

          Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow) is a savvy cross-genre poetic narrative that gets inside the head of Sam, a composer facing a crisis of creativity. Sam’s meandering morning thoughts reveal his frustration about his blocked creativity and his diminishing prospects for fame and money in an economy that he views as encouraging style, sentimentality, and the shallow repetition of the comfortable and familiar. These thoughts intertwine with Sam’s conflicted emotions about his mother, who died giving birth to him; his wealthy father, who has little understanding for Sam’s musical endeavours; and his wife, whose supportive words only send Sam into a spiral of guilt because of his lack of income.
          The book is a deceptively easy read: because of the liberal use of space on the page, it can be read in less than a couple of hours. But what makes it so extraordinary is Seelig’s seamless interweaving of the complex psychological, sexual, economic, and aesthetic themes within Sam’s reveries, the way that he guides the reader smoothly from one plane of thought to the next and demonstrates the interrelatedness of the themes flowing through Sam’s consciousness. For me the greatest pleasure is in re-reading the text, revisiting passages to experience at a slower pace the subtleties of their music. And there really is something musical—ironically enough, given Sam’s compositional block—in the thematic development and variations and in the rhythmic expressiveness aided by the use of space on the page, which reads something like a musical score: Sam’s elusive magnum opus, perhaps?
          Seelig’s striking use of space on the page places the text in a liminal genre between prose narrative and poem. The lineation and zigzagging left margin might seem daunting at first—quite a bit of eye hockey required—but an expressive rhythm emerges that, like a song by Janacek, aligns with speech patterns and with the emotional hesitations and associative streams of thought characteristic of the internal monologue. Here’s an excerpt from a page in which Sam contemplates the possible compromises a composer might make in an economy that rewards the commercialization of art:

The arrangement of the words emphasizes Sam’s bemoaning the correspondences between art, power, and money: like a capitalist bottom line, “sell” keeps hitting the left margin as a reminder of the hard economic realities of being an artist. Also, the repetition of words echoes the use of repetitive motifs and rhythms by composers of minimalist music, whom Sam views as a prime example of selling out in contemporary music. And the cheesy rhyming of “sham” and “ham” foreshadows his rant on the following page that “the cheesier the style the more it sells.”
          What might at first blush seem like an arbitrary scattering of words on the page is in reality a very smart use of space on the page—positions, margins, repetition—effectively scoring Sam’s thoughts. This use of space is a kind of stylistic signature of the book, but far from being what Sam sees as the vapid triumph of style, Seelig’s spacial manipulation meshes with and emphasizes the intricate interplay of ideas and emotions in Sam’s monologue. And the lineation produces a seamless quality, not only because of its cohesive effect on the whole, but also because the spatial patterns give the meandering thoughts the continuity that allows the reader to make connections among them, for example, between his troubled relationship with his wealthy father and his feelings of disgust toward the commercialization of art.
          But what is perhaps easier to take for granted in Every Day is the intricate and sophisticated shifting of perspective—thus the “he-you-i” in the title of this review. Although long passages of Sam’s internal monologue are written in the first person, the point of view shifts almost without the reader being aware of the change. The opening of the narrative shows just how Seelig glides from a third person narrator’s prologue:

*****
This is what happens in the morning of course many things happen to many people in the morning but this is what happens when Sam wakes up . . .
. . .
he puts on some shaving cream picks up his razor blade and starts shaving in the yellow light he’s flicked on a slightly yellow light that flickers at first above the mirror that reflects him
*****

to the second person:

*****
well what else can a mirror do but reflect and what else can you do in the mirror but face your face and reflect on how you used to believe you could write music to make a living simply make a living from writing your own God how naive you were to believe that back then . . .
. . .
while he does fine all the same because whatever Father wants Father gets with all the money he has for what for sitting for sitting on his rump all day as if his fat all shits bills all day long a trumpet call of bills from his ass as if from out of his fat ass pops one long trumpet that toots bills all day long just sitting since he sits on his ass all day
*****

and finally to the “i” of Sam’s internal monologue:

*****
like me i guess a little like me so what if i also sit when i work i really work i don’t just sit and get fat if anything i’m getting even thinner
*****

          The conversational “well” that opens the shift to the second person shows how subtly Seelig accomplishes the transition toward the internal monologue. Moreover, the “you,” which could be apprehended at first as an indefinite pronoun (a “you” out there, perhaps also the reader), presages Sam’s internal dialogue shaving before a mirror, addressing himself as “you” and responding as “i,” wondering whether he should latch onto a trademark, like the minimalists’ use of repetition, to become a famous composer. At the end of this passage, he agrees with his internal questioning voice, rejecting the prospect of becoming a “famous bore”:

*****
maybe one note is all it takes why not like Cage one note to be like John Cage or Riley repetitive like Terry Riley why is Terry Riley so repetitive a bore like Reich take a bore like Steve Reich is Philip Glass as repetitive you wonder as you shave in the mirror is one note all it takes for me to be the next Glass or Reich or Riley or Cage sure if what you want is to be a bore a famous bore mind you but a bore all the same why are they all the same and why is one more repetitive than the next is it to bore me to death
*****

          These subtle shifts in perspective enhance the seamless quality of the narrative, which is written so skilfully that a reader might marvel at the effect without at first being aware of how it was accomplished.
          Seelig’s shifting points of view remind me of Apollinaire’s “Zone,” a poem whose alternations among first, second, and third points of view have been associated with cubism. Some have interpreted these shifts as symptomatic of the modernist rupture of the self into expressions of self-alienation brought about by cultural forces of urbanization and technology. I’ve always felt that this argument is insufficient to explain the fracturing of the traditionally consistent point of view into modernist literature’s prismatic investigation of subjective experience. Call me an optimist, but I’m drawn more to Mary Ann Caws’ interpretation of the shifting points of view in “Zone”: “the pronominal zig-zags vibrate within the text, creating a warmth of contact between narrator and reader, drawn into the poem” (52).
          And to me, this is the effect of Seelig’s shifting points of view in Every Day, as the “he-you-i” flow at the opening demonstrates, for the reader is implicated in Sam’s dialogic “you.” Thus the boundaries between points of view are permeable, as are the resulting boundaries between narrator, character, and reader.
          In Every Day Seelig takes seamlessness, a quality associated with stream of consciousness writing, to another level through the musicality of the writing. And like hearing the music that Sam would probably like to compose, reading his thoughts is a hypnotic experience.

Work Cited
Caws, Mary Ann. “Strong-Line Poetry: Ashbery’s Dark Edging an the Lines of Self.” The Line in Postmodern Poetry. Eds. Robert Frank and Henry Sayre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.



Camille Martin