How to Read Stained Glass

The Stained Glass Sequence
By James Dunnigan
18 pages
2019
Frog Hollow Press

A church is a physical space designed and built to enhance transfiguration, with the architecture sheltering intimate ritual from the vagaries of the outside world. This is accentuated by the main portal that links the two – stained glass windows that let a little light shine in from the outside, but in a thoroughly mediated fashion.

Stained glass itself is like a decoration hung on perception, one that refracts the light and shadow of the reality behind, transforming it into a more ornate version. Poet James Dunnigan leverages that quality as the foundational conceit for The Stained Glass Sequence, a chapbook plunged in reflection on another primordial creative force: language. But it’s not for the sake of an academic lesson so much as a means to show how poetry transfigures society into civilization.

In his ‘Ten Notes In Lieu Of Preface’ (i.e. a stylized Forward to the chapbook), Dunnigan argues that “[t]he basic unit of poetry is the line…an audiovisual notation of a phrase of language: it organizes languages into frames, the way cinematic frames organize movement and sound”.

So does poetry organize the elements of culture for the narrative of civilization, and so do Dunnigan’s poems mix myth, autobiography, philosophy, art criticism and journalesque jottings into a textual refraction of these elements.

In some places, Dunnigan moves from religion to geopolitics to astronomy; in others, from philosophical musings to a literal and figurative trip along the Lachine Canal in Montreal. It’s a disorienting techique, as his lines (true to argument) are sliced, diced, and scattered across the page, making for a poesy not meant to be read aloud, like musical notes plucked from a staff, but of clues to be attacked, as if part of a code or a puzzle.

Dunnigan occasionally launches into a more linear rush, such as in ‘Stained Glass 5 – Ceiling’, in which he imagines, “if Michelangelo…did a flood scene/for the Sistine/Chapel/involving the most massive use of blue” that quickly gushes out into a recounting of a failed attempt at the writing of a scifi novel, before whorling back into a mournful dirge. He delivers it all with the wonderful, twitchy energy and jumpy lyricism of a sermon given by a slightly deranged priest, one whose congregation is based in the Church of Disunited Abstraction.

Congregate here.
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Collecting Postcards from Impossible Worlds

Postcards from Impossible Worlds: The Collected Shortest Story

By Peter Chiykowski

Chizine Publications

192 Pages

2018

With the quaintly-angled darkness of a Stephen King short story, the trajectory of a Rob Plath poem, and the compactness of Japanese Tanka, Peter Chiykowski’s ‘postcards’ read like flashcard science and horror fiction that are often surprising and witty, and, occasionally, thoroughly unsettling.

Chiykowski’s preferred medium is short text over washed-out photo. The supporting image is usually torn from a sentimental nature shot, a flash from a bad acid trip, or an eruption from a surrealistic nightmare. The narrative tropes include your garden variety zombie apocalypses, tales of mirrors sharpening the evil within into shards of evil with-out, ghosts in the duct work, and other Weird Tales settings that end on a punch-line that can conjure up pointed irony, or birth slick snakes of dread.

Despite the brevity, a number of the pieces dredge more sinister depths. Among the best is a post-urban folktale in which some seemingly quaint backwoods townsfolk trick more ‘civilized’outsiders into becoming unwitting participants in a mysterious local ritual. As curious temptation gives way to sudden demise, you find yourself looking at something not unlike The Wickerman in ultraminiature.

A read of Postcards from Impossible Worlds is akin to a brief immersion in a dark kaleidoscope built of 1950s pulp and late 20th century irony. An enjoyable pop culture siesta you can take with a side-dish soundtrack of the Cramps, the Teen Idols or the HorrorPops.

Start collecting here.

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

Band Names & Other Poems
By Peter Davis
231 pages
2018
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

2015

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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