How to Read Music (or at least the Band Names)

Band Names & Other Poems
By Peter Davis
231 pages
Bloof Books

In the mid-1980s, venerable punk zine MAXIMUMROCKNROLL plastered the cover of an issue with all the names of the dozens and dozens of bands that had been featured in their stainy, Xeroxish pages. It was both an aesthetic homage to (John) Peel Session record covers, and a boast on the depth of the hardcore punk scene and the zine’s reach over it. The act also seemed a tiny-fonted testament to the End Times of band names. Surely that must have accounted for all the good ones! Surely there couldn’t be any more…at least in the punk realm…

Of course it wasn’t. And there were.

Still, in the following decades, the casual popular music fan would be forgiven for thinking that, at some point, all the good, hell, maybe all the band names period had finally been taken. There must be some finite combination of the nouns, pronouns, adverbs, phrases and biographical references that can be hung over a collection of guitars, drums and keyboards. We’ve gone from the banal (The Band, The The) to the exotic (God Speed You! Black Emperor, Einstűzende Neubauten); from the cultish (Adam West) to the infamously historical (Franz Ferdinand); from the holy (Creed) to the profane (Fucked Up). You could be forgiven for thinking that, with well-over a half-century of popular music in the history books, and with technology increasing the ability of musical acts to blossom, anything good and sensical must have been taken. The English language must be exhausted trying to keep up!

Nope. Each morning, a trip to Pitchfork or any other music blog/site/reference guide brings forth samplings of fresh broth from the seemingly infinite well.

In Band Names & Other Poems, Peter Davis proves both this vibrancy of popular culture as a brand generator and underlines the medium of language as its essential food and fuel. And offers up a whole bunch of new band names for keeners in basements and garages across the continent.

The rhythm of the collection is like a long pop song itself. Each ‘verse’ is the series of pages with columns of potential band names that can be chanted off like a sprawling, Whitmanesque catalogue of the pop cosmos. These are occasionally interrupted by one or two standard poems for which Davis plucks titles from the lists. These bits of verse melodically function like a repeating chorus and/or middle eight throughout the meta structure of the book.

Band Names & Other Poems is a fun and funky illustration of how language works – how words collide in our discourse like essential particles that form new structures out of, sometimes landing atop, and occasionally replacing, the old. Davis illustrates that power as he tosses names out like hybrid seeds that quickly flower into full poems, each a different flavour of the possibility that a vibrant, living language can offer.

There are absurdist riffs in the anti-ballad, ‘The Diet of Jesse James’: “O, Jesse James ate cash, mostly, but he/also ate other forms of money, like/checks and bank statements”. There are languid, dream-like strokes of observations on ‘The Dainty Ninjas’ that “aren’t powerful/ but.. are merciful, like/ a god that no religion has/discovered yet”. There is also a sharp violence in ‘Careful of the Panther’, a stab of verse about a beast that “has/secrets he keeps from himself, erupting/in bloody-gore orgies, involving claws, /teeth and the muscles of the jaw”.

Davis’ ode to language as a deep well for experience, and entertainment, is unique in form but also an impressive, and fully immersive, experience.

Plunge in here.

P.S. If you are in a band, and in a bind for inspiration for something to paint (old school) on the front of your drum kit, Davis will offer you more than a little inspiration.

Our personal favourites include: Bomb Dogs, The Drunk Best Man and Oliver Stoner.


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Full Immersion in Ink in Thirds

Ink in Thirds

Volume 2, Issue 4

36 pages

July/August 2018

Ink in Thirds is conjured from a rich layout that juxtaposes text and image to a degree of contrast at which meaning is confused between media routes. Whether it’s a poem fixed over an elemental photo (such as a blast of lightning), or flash fiction washed out in a close-focus of flora, the reader’s experience will be stretched and strained in a battle of articulation.

It’s an unconventional potion for stories that turn on tragedies so direct and understated as to be almost maudlin – the childhood dreams rudely ripped into adult reality in David Cook’s “Red and Blue Shoelaces”, or love shorn of all but pretense in Adam Lock’s “Death in the Afternoon”. But the cool imagery accompanying each story is so bracingly stark that it wrings all emotional significance from the text, leaving the reader to confront the threadbare essence of each experience in a fresh perspective.

Affects are a little more conventional, if still powerful, in the curated verse of this issue. The skeletal, spondaic music of Libby Christensen’s “Bone and Cartilage” is a particular bold example. Direct and vividly drawn.

Plunge in here.

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Dusting Off: Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion – The Poetry of Sportstalk

Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion – The Poetry of Sportstalk

Edited by Pasha Mall and Jeff Parker

142 pages


featherproof books

There’s a famous scene from Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis lectures Tim Robbins’ Ebby LaLoosh on the finer points of how to give an interview. When LaLoosh responds that the result would be “pretty boring”, Crash notes: “’Course it’s boring, that’s the point.”

Professional athletes. They are among the most quoted in contemporary media, yet also the least eloquent – although that is often by strategy, rather than nature or potential. Trained by communications consultants to survive the pressure cooker of the post-game presser, they must be able to talk at length without saying much at all.

Those who go off-script, however, are the most colourful and outrageous personalities, if not the most substantial.

In Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion – The Poetry of Sportstalk, Pasha Mall and Jeff Parker have collected and shaped the meanderings, musings, ragings, elegies and celebrations of a number of celebrity athletes, and slightly torqued them into lyrics that reflect the sportsworld stage. The ones they pluck from post-game chats, interviews, and other ephemera also give us a new perspective on the individuals, as we stare up at them, their words dropped naked into the spotlight, shed of context.

Yogi Berra gives us simple haiku-like Zen. From Muhammad Ali comes sprawling, epic oratorio, mixing hooks of rhyme with jabs of righteousness. Mark Gonzales riffs Skateboard Blues.

This could all end up more gimmicky than inspired. But in the most successful examples, the type and/or shape of the poems throw the athlete or sportsfigure into sharp relief. The best of the bunch is knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, known to be a thoughtful type, and his captured meditation on how he became successful at his bread and butter pitch becomes as much an eloquent lyric on spiritual self-discovery as coaching session.

And some, like Allen Iverson’s famous rant on ‘practice‘ (presented like an old-time jeremiad) are fun reminders of what it can be like if you just step away from the mic and let these people roll.

Listen up here.

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A Read of Paper and Ink

Paper and Ink Zine: Tales from the Bar Side
Issue #13
40 pages
June 2018

Paper and Ink resembles a classic punk rock zine from the 1980s in all its glorious, shambolic variety.

Black and white. Cut and paste. Print and staple. Loud and lively.

And while the sheets of paper bound up as the zine may technically be as flat as any computer screen, the scabs, patches, and crusts of photos and fonts make Paper and Ink much more tactile than your average online/electronic literary undertaking. That makes it the perfect forum for a collection of poetry and short fiction curated as “Tales from the Bar Side” – a theme that, on one hand, conjures the humid and heavy spectres that haunt broken down watering holes on the wrong end of town; and the dizzy anarchy of the more lively party rooms on the upside.

The bread and butter of this editorial slant comes in the form of poems and stories that may revel in the dirty glory of nightlife, or indulge in a more sober (pun intended) look at what such seamy decadence wreaks.

Take a poem from (the always nihilistically razor sharp) Rob Plath, whose “the spackler at gunther’s tavern” is appropriately steeped in guttural wit, or Rebecca H. Wang’s more meditative, rhythmically rocking “Seven Drinks”. Both demonstrate the range of tone still possible in this well-poured genre.

“Behind the Fat Chance”, some short fiction by Hosho McCreesh, takes the freshest approach. The narrative never actually slips into the environs but, instead, uses the romantic notion of ‘bar as haven from reality’ to strip that idealization down to the dusty floorboards. McCreesh’s portrait is like a character from Cheers exposed as he wakes up in the lunchroom to find out that no one ever actually knew his name.

Leap over to the bar side here.

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A Read of Slag

Slag Review – a journal of art, literature, and metallurgy

Issue #8

Spring 2018

Slag, the material, is a by-product of steelmaking, a process that also renders an easy and accurate analogy for the work featured in Issue #8 of Slag, the Review. Not that the fiction and poetry is a junk by-product – far from it. But, thematically, many of the selections in this edition hang together as examples of a balance of process, between what becomes and what remains. That includes a recounting of experiences of emotional marginalization; sharp shards of disquieting imagery; and scenes that are peeled off the everyday yet still hang over it like a gauze of spectral light refracting on what is left behind.

In “The Man and His Till”, Annie Blake offers a mostly straightforward recounting of a college student’s part-time job and a study of her employer. It unrolls like the narrative is a finger slowly tracing the outline of a silhouette – until the almost literal explosion of colour at the anti-climax.

On the other hand, Brad Liening’s haunting, multi-part poem “Visible Cities” abruptly stands up a nightmarish metro-scape, where a city’s populace has been freed from the corporeal bonds of law and order, and where one may find oneself “holding a gun/and you’re waiting/for just the right moment/for your life,/your real one,/to begin”.

Somewhere inbetween is the quasi-inspirational “Rolling Your Guts”, DS Maolalai’s poetic exploration of how a wretched experience produces a more wretched (and wretching) by-product that the reader witnesses “propelled/by pressure from the centre”. But it’s one that also produces an ultimately regenerative wave we watch “returning to the sea”.

To dive back down the analogy-mineshaft, if metallurgy is the process the separates the more valuable metals from their basic foundational ore, the work within Slag neatly reproduces that cleaving, as the mystical and the spiritual are contrasted with the rote and the physical. It’s a process that deconstructs our reality, but also infuses it with more spirit, energy and mystery.

Join in here.

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A Read of Armstrong’s Orphaned Words

Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems from a Haphazard Life

By RD Armstrong

247 pages


Lummox Press

Lurched at one end of the barstool-poet spectrum, the Charles Bukowskis rage in blood and booze for all the attention in the room. The John Yamrus-types efficiently go about their business at the other, dissecting experience with lean verse (like the architecture of poetry has been stripped down to a drafting sketch) and spitting their epithets off with tobacco-spite. Closer to the middle whirl the RD Armstrongs, with casual lyricism that captures a fuller internal life, richer tapestry of images, and more contemplative moments.

Armstrong’s verse includes everything from the honest melancholia of ‘Have I Told You About the Rain’, to the blues riffing of ‘Cool Blue Walls’, to more intense meditations like ‘Ignorance,’ where he explores the lost innocence of a whole generation in a compact string of far-reaching stanzas. He even throws in a visit to the ancient Muses (while still cut in his trim contemporary wit) in ‘Odysseus Returned’. His work generally carves slices of insight off the whole gamut of experience (life, love, the pursuit of more resources), but he can also offer quick gems of unexpected imagery that “dart past…like a startled mouse”.

Armstrong’s work is always intense and intimate, even with these “orphans” that were left out of previous collections – and which he has revisited because, as he says in the intro, “you never know what the reader will latch onto, be it your best or your worst”.

And there is plenty of the former to adopt here.

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Take the Berlin-Warszawa Express

Berlin—Warszawa Express
By Eamon McGrath
98 pages
ECW Press

Constant acceleration may be the gateway pace to spiritual illumination, but it’s also an eventual route to physical burnout. Hooked on (and hanging on for dear life) to that Beat Generation tradition, Eamon
McGrath relates a rabid hobo quest for experience in Berlin—Warszawa Express.

Instead of poets bumming from Times Square to New Orleans or into the mountains of the North Cascades National Park, McGrath gives us indie punk grebos stumbling through Eastern Europe – and mainly Berlin to Warsaw. (The titular Berlin-Warszawa Express is a cross-border train route that, well, goes between Berlin and Warsaw in about 6.5 hours.) The scraggly milieu that McGrath travel-logs about (in what is a fictionalized account of the indie-rocker’s own touring life with his band and as a solo act) is a sub-culture that is ravenous for new experience but never satisfied with what it hunts down. The novel has a frenzied narrative to match, with McGrath burning from one gig to the next, one bar to the next, and one country to the next, with an insatiable appetite for fresh encounters.

Like the best work of the early Beat writers, the narrative action here is grounded in – or ungrounded
with – that constant need for movement. But McGrath’s prose is neither a big Kerouacean religious
meditation on transience, nor a deliberative John Clellon Holmes-like study of art and popular culture. It
is a sleek and efficient account that greases his thoughts and keeps them rolling at maximum speed along with the geography of the journey.

And, to McGrath, everything may ultimately be just about the journey for the sake of the journey, with
no transcendence available. Even when he returns home at one point to undertake a mini-tour through
Canada, he realizes that “all I could think about was how much I wanted to return to Europe.” While
McGrath never defines what he is looking for past the searching itself, that conundrum gives him pause for
consideration. At one point, encountering a “punishingly loud three-piece free jazz band from Warsaw playing at a breakneck volume” and drowned in this tsunami of sound, he experiences his own satori:

Amid this cacophony, I knew that I was in a place where no time existed. I was a prisoner of my own chains, I had lived my life trapped by confines that I had created. True freedom existed somewhere and at this point in my life, in Berlin, I was as close to it as I would ever be, or at least had ever been. All this would fade to memory in seconds, but there was something that felt so violently everlasting in that big, circling noise.

Along with music, booze is a key driver here – a travelling partner, a fuel, but also as great a risk to the
body as restlessness may be to the soul. A hangover leaves McGrath feeing pinned down with “the
familiar feeling of weight…It’s like all your thoughts are pained and clogged, and goop flows through your existence – the kind of viscous, molasses hangover where everything is slow. Then we got on the train and we went to Austria.” The artificial joy is both a stimulant to the journey and an entropic drag.

Still, McGrath continues to offer the reader beauty with the ruin, as the rush of the poetry of his language mimics that restless, relentless travel:

Cars race by on the Gürtel, laughing drunk brutes come and go from the doorway of Thaliastrasse U-Bahn station, and as we hear the hum of Vienna rise up in a soothing roar, Esteban and I both laugh and drink and know that amid all this trash and unhindered humanity is something beautiful that could only be birthed by the mother that is the tender
warm hands of the night.

The quest for new experience is certainly a Sisyphean journey for McGrath – but it’s also a thrill ride for
the reader.

Hop onboard.

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