Hang on a second while we grab that post for you.
Dragnet friend, and all around good dude, Spencer Gordon, got a really great review in the National Post, for his book, Cosmo. Yay Spencer!
Time in the Shadow of the Wing of the Thing Too Big To See, Rising
Gil Adamson - Ashland (ECW Press, 2011)
Canadian poets seem to have a fetish for deconstructing American Western mythology. Both bpnichol and Michael Ondaatje wrote about Billy the Kid; Gil Adamson has an extended piece in Ashland about Jesse James. Of course, she writes about other subjects as well, but throughout her poetry collection, Western tropes appear over and over again.
The sections entitled “Ashland” and “Black Wing” describe an apocalyptic world of which Cormac McCarthy would seemingly approve (and, in fact, the book begins with an epigraph from his novel Suttree). But whereas McCarthy’s ultraviolent Blood Meridian and Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid are as wide in scope and burning with immediacy as the baked plains they describe, Ashland’s first two sections are cold and claustrophobic. Part is intentional, but part, I feel, is a result of Adamson’s reliance on stock images commonly associated with darkness. She is a devotee of the Edgar Allen Poe school of word choice (“unhappy,” “dying,” “cold,” “cry,” “starved,” “pity,” “buried,” “violence,” and “suffer” all appear in the first half-page poem) and where she embraces it most fully, despite her attention to the poetic line and rhythm, her writing loses its momentum.
Accordingly, Adamson is at her best when venetian slices of light allow the darkness a sense of depth, as in the poems “Swell, Trough,” (“His beard has grown out the / door, round the corner, tripping old women in mourning as they / stagger from the church door”) and “Blessed Children,” (“The newspaper says miners have burned down three local / businesses and entered private residences with revolvers drawn. They / congregate by the mine’s open mouth at night, drunk, their helmets still alight”).
Adamson embraces humour and absurdity most fully in the third section, “Here’s your money,” the poem inspired by Jesse James. “He loved to attend the ballet,” she says of the infamous criminal. “At intermissions, he would abuse those who’d fallen asleep / and slap the cigars from their mouths.”
The most hopeful section is “Euphoria,” about a man experiencing euphoric fever, but even then, positive feelings are no more than illusion, the product of psychedelic chemicals released naturally in the man’s brain as his body falls apart (an apt comparison would be to Gaspar Noé’s recent film Enter the Void).
Ashland was originally published in 2003 and reprinted this year, following the Man Booker nomination for Adamson’s novel The Outlander. She acknowledges that the narrative poem “Mary” in Ashland directly inspired her 2007 novel, so for fans of the novel, Ashland is a no-brainer purchase.
For everyone else, it depends on how much you like walking in cemeteries.
Stay tuned for a review of Frank Davey’s When Tish Happens: The Unlikely Story of Canada’s Most Influential Literary Magazine recently published by ECW Press.