[OR] might be a book of steganography. Or not. The tension of appearance inheres in it, and ciphertexts seem to abound. As the poems take up their concealing/revealing, coded/decoded, intelligence/counter-intelligence themes, borders and borderlands appear, are crossed, or are closed. Many of the borderlands turn out to be their own interiors – “secret” workings of the codes ghosting through them. Are they abject castoffs, lost possibilities, proscribed mutations, or future events?
Codes are hidden everywhere, sliding through the atmosphere, slipping into microwave towers, handheld devices, nervous systems, brains, retinas, bar codes, antimissile systems, the antennae of DNA, the traces of virtual particles, the Chauvet Cave drawings, your Twitter account. Each broaches a transformative version of its own transduction. The buck never stops. And since it’s been documented that perception happens before we know it (Benjamin Libet), and the future might already have happened, these poems ask what this might mean – especially in an accelerated, “semio-inflated” world of signs, words, and information.
Maybe it’s no wonder that the poems use tropes from spy thrillers and code breakers. In them a character may have been murdered, or moved to another dimension. Along the way strange perturbations occur to narrative and its others: memory, (prosthetic memory), dream, reportage, code, a little history of the future, déjà vu, paramnesia, the virtual – versions, evasions, and alternatives. Each poem gets read a few times, its code deciphered or ciphered back up. Some of the poems decay. Each reader reads his or her own poem and encodes it for another. What communication crosses out, these poems try to find. They might ask “What is reading?” while at the same time “Who are you?” In asking they acknowledge fragility, and in fragility, suggests William E. Connolly, lies the beginning of freedom.
About the author
Brian Henderson has been a Governor General's Award finalist (Nerve Language, Pedlar Press, 2007) and a finalist for the CAA Chalmers Award for Poetry (Sharawadji, Brick Books, 2011). He is the author of eleven previous volumes of poetry, including The Alphamiricon (a deck of visual poem cards) and [OR] (Talonbooks, 2014). Former director of WLU Press, he is now co-editor of the Laurier Poetry Series, and lives with his wife, Charlene Winger, in Grey Highlands, Ontario.
"This is a well crafted poetry book; I found it not to be of the multiple tones of emotions, but one controlled. I found Brian Henderson words are patient, careful not to focus on sadness, but the perspective of persevering. The book layout is setup as if the book needs to be decoded, which always feels you’re missing something. First, focus on the poems; they speak of wars, the activity of spy and government. His poems are colorful, accommodated by nature’s precise temperament.
So, this book reads for me as a book that is personal, one that each individual will listen as they read and hear. Hear the pain, lost, and hopelessness, but you then feel the persevering of finding peace within. It’s not poems you’ll hear around a campfire or roundtable, but those poems you hear when you walk into a cave and ask the old man or the young child, “What has happen here?” and be amazed.
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads."
—Derrick Williams, Goodreads
“Who doesn’t love the ‘bullet’s longing for a heart’? Surprise, it’s Brian Henderson, versus the Uncertainty Principle. Over three decades, this mad trapper-scientist has named the exact origin of particles, and set them shooting off again, as if to clarify consciousness by exploding the ‘plural chaos’ of the unseen. What a hat trick: ontological clairvoyant, provisional sage, cartographer of both sides of language, he tracks beginning and end trajectories of fallen light, because the ‘world of forms’ is chaste, and must be chased by active silence, fulsome points, and tickertape, flickering and unfinished, insofar as our participation in life completes that nervous circuitry. Naming also conceals, like breathing, these fleet tracings: ‘You are a time-effect, of which a voice print can be made.’ Listen to the forensic phosphor of how things reach out, read and transpose each other. To read his poetry is to come clean from the haunting ordinary, made extraordinary. Always asking why, Henderson helps us dream the answer.”
– Weyman Chan
“[OR] is an extraordinary book, brilliant from the first particle trace to the last. A luminous meditative transcendence links it all together, playing deep chords in both mind and flesh. The fluency of time and space created by these poems carries the reader beyond the named into gnosis. Henderson’s language is often just out of reach, which is perfect, drawing the reader deeper into his world by understanding its implications.”
– Don Domanski