by Geordie Miller
80 pp, $15
Bourbon & Eventide
by Mike Spry
72 pp, $15
Between September 1967 and September 1978, or from child to teen, I lived on Halifax’s Maynard Street, and so I have to notice Invisible Publishing, which is based there.
And the press issues fascinating poets, such as Geordie Miller and Mike Spry, whose first books emphasize a self-conscious, irony-heavy vibe.
Re:Union reveals Miller’s indebtedness to graduate tudies and stand-up comedy. The title reads as “reunion” and “Regarding Union,” and this punning use of “re:” recurs (I should write, “re:curs”) throughout the unpaginated, unhefty volume.
Miller’s verses are smart, insider-outsider mash-ups of pop culture and undergraduate classes, or of Facebook “sharing” and by-the-book (or buy-the-textbook) knowledge.
One example is “Neolettrism,” which mocks the conjunction between Ayn Rand’s literate “philosophy” of greed and neoliberalism, which frees the rich to loot the poor: “I have shored these lines against an expensive grave…. / Business won’t go out of business.”
Understanding “I’m from St. Catharines” requires knowledge of the French and Mahaffy homicides in that Ontario city, nigh 25 years ago: “How a Missing poster was next to / the ‘No Backpacks Allowed’ sign / on the door of the Victoria variety / where we bought our candy…. / How they tortured her to Bowie / How I don’t listen to Bowie.”
Black comic irony is the deadpan humour of this collection: “There used to be a barbershop / by the bus station at (Toronto’s) Bay and Dundas / called ‘Terminal Cuts.’”
One poem revisits the textbook, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. (Charlotte’s Web) White: “‘Use the active voice’ // Roland Barthes was struck by a laundry truck. Death he did do. // A laundry truck struck Roland Barthes. He died.” To “get” this jest, one must know that Barthes was a critic famed—or notorious—for declaring “the death of the author”—i.e., that a writer is less vital than his/her writing.
For insiders “in the know,” there is pleasure in deconstructing such wit. But such classroom jests can seem sophomoric.
Miller’s objective “outsider” stance distances writer from reader: “Bringing a black eye to my first protest / in the food court of the Mic Mac mall / to call a genocide a genocide.” Yet, the poem ends nicely: “Lola saw her first snow this afternoon / her head upturned as if grateful / could she know where anything comes from.”
Miller is readily readable—as is Spry. His book, Bourbon & Eventide is a 56-page, page-turning, verse-novella about a couple’s miscommunications. This experimental work consists of two prosy verses—usually totaling six lines—per page.
The manner is he-said, she-said; he-misinterprets, she-misinterprets. She’s a jade—and he’s jaded; or she’s intelligent and he’s just a gent; or one drinks whiskey and the other is off-key. It’s Archie-as-Jughead and Betty-as-Veronica.
The narrative is arch, fey, twee, ironic, and, above all, intriguing. “he hadn’t meant to sleep with her friend, who had the name of a stripper / and the eyes of the terrorist, but it was late, and he was weak, / and her bed was just upstairs from his last drink.”
“They went for coffee, and she ordered gin. She said, / ‘It’s easy to duplicate mistakes, but near impossible to perfect them.’ / He said, ‘I may not be fearless enough to keep you happy.’”
The couple dynamic of misunderstandings—if not misdeeds—is replicated in these couplets of triplets, per page, emphasizing how each speaker recalls events or calls out definitions differently.
“‘Is the coathanger in your shower for abortions?’ she asked…. / ‘The drain clogs,’ he replied. / She didn’t tell him she’d visit the clinic alone.”
“His smile, when it wanted to be, was monsterful. There were days he was handsome. / But he rested on the laurels of his flaws, and saw their end in country songs. / ‘Sometimes I wear cologne,’ she told him, ‘so I don’t wake up thinking of you.’”
Ending his book, Spry offers shout outs to Montreal poets David McGimpsey and Jon Paul Fiorentino, two masters of the (postmodern) poetic of the pathetic, such as is exemplified in Spry’s saga of two lovelorn, heterosexual intellectuals. His playful narrative echoes a True Confessions magazine story—but one edited by a poet.