Life Writing: Omnivorous and Materially Fascinated

ROMANS/SNOWMARE comprises the first layer of a potentially interminable life-poem, to which I add at least one sentence per day, cribbing objects of lexical interest and glossing my experience, however coyly. For me, the project originated out of a pressing sense that I was writing all the time without really finishing any discrete poems per se, filling notebook after notebook with sentences of compressed poeticity awaiting future attention. I decided to simply compile them and call their accidental patterns and repetitions the text, and with that large scale repository in mind, I’ve been writing assiduously ever since. 

The following books differ greatly, but each comprises a point of inspiration or departure for an omnivorous and materially fascinated life-writing, from macro-level lyric to diaristic prose. Neither memoir nor novel, neither epic nor lyric, these are texts written in overlay to an actual world, where an author’s subjectivity refracts surroundings. They also happen to be some of my favourite books of all-time. 

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The Martyrology, by bpNichol

I hesitate to pick a single volume of a life-poem on this scale, so I’ll endorse the whole thing. When I started writing ROMANS/SNOWMARE I was thinking about Nichol a lot, and more specifically about the basis for his poetics in psychoanalytic training; about the status of the individual letter as an inchoate fragment of a recollected body, and all the abecedarian rites that comprise his life’s work. In a sense, ROMANS begins alongside The Martyrology, as an attempt at an interminable self-analysis of sorts. 

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Rhapsody in D, by Todd Bruce

When I was a young teenager, I worked at a bookstore alongside Todd Bruce. I was earnestly reading The Divine Comedy at the time, and he basically yanked it from my hands and replaced it with something more companionable. Pace yourself, kid, I think he was trying to say. But the real discovery that followed from this intervention was Bruce’s own poetry, and this book in particular—a lush, neo-romantic work of mourning for a partner lost. The physical landscape of these poems blurs into the contours of the body it commemorates, united in music, “the flesh of jazz.”

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Spare Parts Plus Two, by Gail Scott

Gail Scott’s prose is dense with historical detail, painfully specific in its enumerations of place, and nonetheless dreamlike in its fluid incessance. This book in particular just gorgeously defies the chronological demands placed upon memoir and narrative alike, rejecting mimetic realism for a material agglomeration of images and sentences—the second-order stuff that writing treats as though a world in itself. Almost no one writes so beautifully well, and the essays attached to this second edition are exquisite. 

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Pell Mell, by Robin Blaser

I pick Pell Mell as a favourite representation of Blaser’s lifelong project in verse, The Holy Forest, which unites all of his life’s writing under the sign of a single ecosystem. From the Castoriadis epigram placed at a midpoint, insisting on the body as an interpretive vehicle, to the utopian ars poetica rejecting linearity for a model of concentric growth, Blaser’s project helped me to think about how to negotiate the status of the discrete lyric poem within a larger architecture. 

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Book Cover Ratz are Nice

Ratz are Nice, by Lawrence Ytzhak Braithwaite

Streetwise and textually opaque, this is a densely oppositional lost classic of transgressive writing. My own punk rock habitus differs greatly by comparison, but Braithwaite renders his experience of subculture in a wildly idiosyncratic avant-garde language, whereas most punk writing tends to plainspoken ethnography, rejecting any excessive degree of formal mediation or literary style in its representation. I remember bonding with the writer Kevin Killian over this incredible book—he was a connoisseur of a lot of strange Canadian writing that goes largely unheralded north of the border.  

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Intertidal, by Daphne Marlatt

To see Marlatt’s work in one place is staggering; this collection of poems from 1968-2008 is surely one of the more essential doorstop volumes you’ll come across this decade. The incredible effect of my favourite pieces, "Rings," for example, from 1971, derives from Marlatt’s documentary drive and the quotidian materiality of the text. Very few writers—Bernadette Mayer of course, but that’s a rarefied company—are quite so adept at creating the impression that the time of their writing precisely coincides with the lived time of the incident depicted. 

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The Blue Clerk, by Dionne Brand

Insofar as I’m specifically concerned with writing from life, I appreciate works of dailiness that transcend a narrowly subjective point of view. Brand’s latest asserts the multivocality of any given text, enacting a writing of intense civic interest, where a single author’s notebook gathers innumerable threads of experience. The result is a truly inexhaustible object, one of the most inspiring books of recent memory. 

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Book Cover By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and WEpt

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart

Smart is a literary saint of the heartsick, conveying biblical psalms and gothic psychosomatics forward in time to the Smiths and their best executors. Lofty in tone and brimming with self-sacrificial pique, this is a major touchstone for me, though I’m a more mechanical than florid soul. A searing monologue and a classic of Canadian Modernism, Grand Central is an indispensable lesson in how literary style greets experience as a practice of self-redemption.  

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About ROMANS/SNOWMARE:

Both a daybook of anti-capitalist ideation and a homoerotic reinvention of the prairie long poem, this unique debut resonates with a love of language and experiment.

Written from within the strictures of the working day, the book's title poem issues from a practice of daily collage, comprising the first layer of a potentially interminable personal epic. As a lyric counterbalance, a centralsection follows a punk band throughout dozens of countries connected by and subjugated to capital.

These poems attempt to preserve the superficiality and sincerity of fast-paced social engagement, alluding to the material conditions that permit some people--tourists, artists, musicians--free movement at the expense of others. Playful and meticulously written, ROMANS/SNOWMARE deftly circles the perimeter of the self while drawing the communal inward.

October 21, 2019
Books mentioned in this post
ROMANS/SNOWMARE

ROMANS/SNOWMARE

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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Martyrology Books 1 & 2

Martyrology Books 1 & 2

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Pell Mell

Pell Mell

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian
More Info
Intertidal

Intertidal

The Collected Earlier Poems 1968–2008
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : canadian
More Info
The Blue Clerk

The Blue Clerk

Ars Poetica in 59 Versos
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
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