Garth Martens is a construction labourer for an Edmonton-based commercial construction company and a recent graduate of the University of Victoria's MFA program. Garth was the winner of the 2010 Bronwen Wallace Award for most promising Canadian writer under 35. He is a former member of The Malahat Review's poetry editorial board and The Open Space Arts Society's Board of Directors. He lives in Argentina.
1) Garth Martens reads poems "Tonic Clonic" and "Collarbone:"
2) Tired Masculinity: Recommended Reading List by Garth Martens
The books I've chosen contribute to a conversation about masculinity. They don't offer new visions of masculinity, but they complicate the stereotype, the archetype, of the ordinary heterosexual man, whoever that is. They refuse the blinkered, reductive view. I've worked seven years off and on construction sites in Western Canada where there were seldom any women. The men I've known shared standards by which they measured themselves men. Eager to fit this role, each man nevertheless veered from it in astonishing ways. By shared understanding the crew moderated itself. And if each man was regulated by the tribe, he was also judged at a cross-cut by the public. So often I felt myself summed up at a glance merely because I wore steel-toed boots, a belt and hardhat. In cars or on foot, passersby denied us any place in the wider commonwealth: we were simply enemy struts, and most of us celebrated that image, it's true. For a playful photographic interrogation of these stereotypes, view the “Men Up!” series here.
Larry's Party by Carol Shields: It's no shock, of course. Men might write strong female characters, or women strong male characters. Shields does it so well it becomes, for me, an astonishment. Larry's an ordinary man, if we think of ordinary as the unexceptional and working class. To Shields' credit, she doesn't make Larry a buffoon. We laugh where merited, we see his failings, but we admire him too. So often in print and on screen, men of Larry's extraction are belittled. I was confronted by particularities of male-ness I'd never encountered before in books. These were surprising and immediately recognizable.
The Sentinel by A. F. Moritz: I like poets who teach me something as a writer, and Moritz has a lot to offer. I admire his music, his ruddied diction, and the way in which he combines visceral detail with the abstract. These poems seem like frontier stations marking either end of civilization, its founding and confounding. If some pieces enter the realm of the personal, they never feel confessional, they never rest exclusively in the here-and-now, but draw upon vast shadows of history, philosophy, and metaphysics. Although PK Page praised Moritz as a poet of “high seriousness,” and this is true, he is playful too. I can't say this book is preoccupied with notions of masculinity, but the title poem includes these pleasing, relevant lines describing men at camp, their dreams “of bleeding inwardly, of growing a third arm, / of removing the penis like a banana from its skin / and passing it around the campfire, vaguely anxious / the others won't pass it back.”
A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove: Newlove's voice is uncommon, his use of the conversational phrase anything but slovenly: “You may allow me moments, / not monuments, I being / content. It is little, / but it is little enough.” These poems are marbled with failure, revelry, weariness, love, the usual catch-all descriptors, sure. Newlove's intelligence, his agility of voice, command the best from these subjects. I particularly admire “Public Library” and “Company,” poems where we observe men at their lowest, rank with self loathing, alcoholic blurriness, and depressive wandering: “It loves company and company is disgusted by it; / company enjoys being disgusted by it; / it enjoys disgusting company.”
Woodsmen of the West, Martin Allerdale Grainger: I was working on construction sites in Edmonton when I first read this unsentimental depiction of the logging industry in B.C. The protagonist's struggle to earn his place among hardened men, despite an accent and education that set him apart, reminded me of my first stint in the trade. The logging operator, a mad-eyed driver and condemner of men, resembled one or two steel-spitting foremen from Fort Mac. I've never forgotten one character's cure for hang-over, important when you're due to work at six: drink salt water, pints and pints of it, until you “cough up toe-nails.”
Kill-site, Tim Lilburn: Lilburn composes with a feral poetic line, its music ramped, its metaphors compact. His diction is alert too, on its feet, on its toes. Landforms, deer, the river, Christian mysticism, philosophy, Lilburn's subjects are varied but often situated in nature. If I'm ever disoriented, I don't worry about it. The poems compel, remain sudden. These poems offer an extraordinary example for how we might regard the land differently, how we might stop feeling and acting like intruders. Patriarchy, colonialism, these are not unrelated to the navigations of personal masculinity. Each involves a difficult inheritence. A lot of men I know feel like intruders, on the sidewalk, in their skins.
Who Has Seen the Wind, W.O. Mitchell: This was my grandmother's favourite novel. I can't help reading it with her in mind. Raised in Saskatchewan, she knew the country and era described. This is a classic in Canadian fiction, but I wonder if younger readers know it. We follow four-year-old Brian O’Connal as he moves among prairie people and the prairie town, the prairies themselves: animal bones, the local madman, ants, ache, his father's death, these infringe on Brian's boyhood.
Selected Poems, Alden Nowlan: As the editors of this posthumous Selected note in their Foreward, you've a real sense of the writer behind the poems. The poet's persona doesn't seem artificial, but three dimensional: not without bristle, not without bite, he has anyway an appealing candour. When I hear these poems I hear the sea's tidal slide and a fiddler's rough bowing of a strathspey.
Tay John, Howard O'Hagan: In his early Canadian novel, set in the Canadian Northwest, O'Hagan pushes the narrative incrementally into mythological country. His protagonist, described on the dust jacket as a “messianic halfbreed,” is an impressive and defiant leader of a displaced people. One of the more vivid scenes in Canadian fiction involves Tay John's use of an axe. This is drumming prose, story-telling in the vein of Australian novelist Patrick White.
The Deptford Trilogy, Robertson Davies: Spectacle, magic, hagiography, murder, Jungian archetypes, these imperfectly explain why this trilogy's so difficult to put down. The real reason? Davies is a story-teller of the highest order. His narrator-protagonist Dustan Ramsay is a high school teacher and amateur hagiographer whose life is changed by the toss of a snowball. He is the backseat driver in the big race, the minor player on the stage, Fifth Business.
Stanley Park, Timothy Taylor: Stanley Park is a sensuous and hilarious foray into chef culture, food ethics, and the local food movement. Its other subjects include: voluntary homelessness, an unsolved murder, Faustian pacts, and Stanley Park itself. The protagonist's relationship with his father, an anthropologist who has moved into Stanley Park, and his aggressive relationship with Dante, the ballsy businessman, qualify the book for this list. The novel's an immensely addictive read.
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