Full disclosure: For this book, Kevin, contacted me online and asked me to write up and read a eulogy for him at his book launch. I had not met Kevin,Full disclosure: For this book, Kevin, contacted me online and asked me to write up and read a eulogy for him at his book launch. I had not met Kevin, nor had I ever read his work. So I did and it was a hilariously great experience.
After finally reading the book last week, I can see why having a stranger read a made up eulogy made sense. Utilizing prose, poems, prose poems, diagrams, and drawings made by other people in his life, Eckhoff creates a collage out of the pieces to form an surreal biography. The portrait pieces range from abstract to playful to the comically absurd:
"Hair Sometimes Cousin It, sometimes Uncle Feaster; often Thing T. Thing, always described as big head. Neat. Sweet."
"anyway i am not using proper grammar or capitals because i don't want to scare the bunny. kevin is a pretty good kevin i guess. one day he went outdoors while doing a video-chat and bragged about how he could walk around outdoors in a lumberjack shirt while i was still freezing in april in winnipeg, 30 below celsius with the windchill in april, then he mentioned this biography thing, the jerk, the jerk, the kevin, the perfect revenge."
Many times the contributions read like the perfect revenge and for others it was the ultimate way to engage with Kevin even if it was just the idea of Kevin. Various poets also add to the conversation including Gregory Betts, Gary Barwin, Amanda Earl, and Claire Donato (among others). The most compelling part of this work is that through the collection of different styles and methods from different perspectives, Their Biography becomes a puzzle entirely separate from Eckhoff. The work becomes a version of Kevin, even though it is supposed to be entirely about him. It's like putting together a puzzle of a photo of a city skyline. As the pieces come together, the city is represented, but also the photograph that was originally taken becomes a interactive work outside of the landscape it portrays.
We can get all meta with that philosophy of it, but I'd like to centre by thinking we all have a variety of ways of communicating with or viewing the same person. The portrait composed out of all of those views is not the person, but rather the ideas of that person. Thus, with Their Biography, Eckhoff not only asks people, "who is Kevin to you?" he also asks, "Who am I, really?"...more
This book takes George Orwell's Animal Farm and rewrites it in piglatin (piglatin: when you take a word like "word," take the first letter, put it inThis book takes George Orwell's Animal Farm and rewrites it in piglatin (piglatin: when you take a word like "word," take the first letter, put it in the end and add "ay," creating "ordway").
Two things: in order to read this book I read the original Animal Farm and looked at several paragraphs along the way to make sure the full book was rewritten. The book isn't long at all and an easy read, therefore it didn't take long to realize that all was done as per the constraint.
Second, this is an unreadable text and as a writer and sometime conceptualist, there are certain reasons that I find unreadable texts exciting:
An unreadable text stems from a concept that is manifested in whatever constraints a writer invents. A writer can choose to write every number she sees for a week and create a novel out of it. An author can also write every reference for pie she ever reads in a cookbook to create a new book called "Pies." These are unreadable texts in that they are not meant to be read, but they provoke readers to engage with their concept. Take for example the fake book "Pies." By writing down every reference of pies from the cookbooks in a writer's bookshelf, the author has catalogued a piece of her life that is has been a part of her culinary life. Readers can pick up this book and think upon the impact pies made upon their lives or try to interpret why pies are such an integral part in pastry culture. I'm just winging this pie concept right now, but bear in mind that what's important in an readable text is not the intention nor the meaning behind the writer's constraint. What defines a valuable unreadable text is exclusively between the writer/artist or reader/non-reader. Like a fiction writer releasing a novel out into the world, the book itself disengages with its author and becomes part of the interpretable world inside the reader's mind. The original author no longer "owns" the work, but the reader creates a new work via her experiences and imagination. Thus, the unreadable text shares the universal constraint as the readable text does; it becomes a new work inside the reader's mind. On a whole, the unreadable book is read in the statement of its existence. More on that just a bit further on.
What does a writer get out of it? Well for one matter, rewriting a text, although mundane, can engage a reader/writer through the reader/writer's actions. Gregorian monks transcribed full Bibles and ended up memorizing by physically engaging with the books they were working with. Sometimes writers will find that they get nothing from a rewrite while others might find new patterns or rhythms in the books.
As a reader of Animal Armfay, I found I could understand the words by means of deciphering piglatin, but at the same time I could see Woodford's statement. Animal Farm is one of the first seriously political texts I read in school and thereby a straightforward read until I was asked to analyze it. In digging into it, the politics that surrounded it, the history of its making, and the controversy surrounding its publishing makes piglatin an interesting choice in a reinterpretation. You could use the analogy with the reader as the sheep, who are pretty simple in the novel and they don't understand much. One could also posit the text as created by one the pigs who are trying their best to imitate and model language like their human masters. In the inversion of the language, Woodford has recreated Animal Farm imagery for new eyes in the present day. Orwell no longer becomes a straight read, it becomes a read that one must decipher. Considering the pigs become laughing fodder in the original, here the pigs, using piglatin, drown out the sheep (the reader).
I'm still digesting Woodford's concept, but if anything it has provoked a train of thought I've put off when it comes to unreadable text. ...more
Repression and raw truths lay embedded in Chelsea Rooney’s debut novel Pedal. It’s the story of Julia, a psychology student in Vancouver trying to comRepression and raw truths lay embedded in Chelsea Rooney’s debut novel Pedal. It’s the story of Julia, a psychology student in Vancouver trying to come up with a coherent analysis of her complicated thesis. It is her belief that not all victims of pedophiles have experienced trauma if it doesn’t involve pain. Of course, this proves to be extremely difficult for her to prove and extremely hard for her to explain to those she is closest to her. The more complicated her exploration, the more determined she becomes, “...the belief that pedophilia is solely the result of a patriarchal society is specious,” she declares, “...There are results other than victimization and oppression.” It’s statements like these that alienate her colleagues and most of the world around her.
As a way of trying to find some answers for herself and her work, she embarks on a cycling trip across Canada to see her ailing mother in Nova Scotia. Julia takes Smirks with her, a good-looking writer whom she falls for, which would be great if only he weren’t a pedophile.
Rooney approaches the difficult themes in her book with a frankness that can be jarring. However, she tempers the problematic with beautiful views of the narrator’s physical and inner journeys: “The trees growing there were bare and withered and grey, but if you squinted, they shone like silver scar tissue against the snow. The sun and water at their feet.” Through Julia’s stubbornness and her thoughtful revelations Rooney crafts a gripping story in murky territory.
While the book doesn’t tread lightly upon its controversial nature, Rooney’s writing is nuanced and forces the reader into much neglected perspectives. Pedal is a provocative and a hard read at times, but it’s a refreshing one nonetheless. ...more
Postmodernism finds poetry continually cycling through arguments of the lyrical versus the conceptual. Therefore, it’s refreshing to see a poet dare tPostmodernism finds poetry continually cycling through arguments of the lyrical versus the conceptual. Therefore, it’s refreshing to see a poet dare to play amongst the mudslinging.
Paul Vermeersch’s latest poetry collection Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, is an ode to language left after the end of civilization. Scouring the poetic landscape with various prose harvesting methods such as cut-ups, centos and erasures, Vermeesch collects work and molds it into new structures. He does this on the conceptual setting of future decay. Through that world Vermeesch renders the words anew and reveals the inherent experimental nature of poetry.
My personal favourites are his Sol Le Witt-like recipes in On The Reintegration of Disintegrated Texts: “Select a novel at random. To the end of it, add the line ‘And then Count Anthrak the Destroyer appeared and slayed them all.’
Call it ‘They Suspected Nothing’”
Poetry is experiential in its existence: in its use of rhythms, aesthetics, and the means by which it is made. Poets play and form new ways of expression. Whether it results in abstract or expressive work, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the poet progresses the medium with their methods. Vermeesch renders a beautiful view that we can still rehash the medium with old methods, even creating new ones in the process. What better way to do that but through the images of traditional childlike play in crisis: “I had a wooden dog on a yellow string,/and a wooden train that would not go,/and a wooden car that went.
But it wouldn’t last. In 1973, the Age of Wood was in decline./The dolls abadoned their dollhouses/and let them fall like eyesores on the shore.”
I highly recommend this book, not just for the poetry war fanatics, but because its great poetry. ...more
Murakami's heavily personal narratives have a way of drawing you in and making you inhabit the pliable skin of their protagonists. Ordinary colorlessMurakami's heavily personal narratives have a way of drawing you in and making you inhabit the pliable skin of their protagonists. Ordinary colorless Tsukuru is a fine example of this. The story travels his endless searching brain looking for answers as to why his quartet of friends have abandoned him. His journey takes into Tsukuru's mind, the minds of his friends, and the possibly supernatural elements that drive or end them.
The clinching factor for me was how Murakami plants a universal seed of doubt and the personal double think into his readers' mind. It's vicious cycle of "what ifs," "what did I think I was doing," and continually wondering what other people's motivations are. We all do it, whether we admit or not is another question altogether, but self-doubt plagues this character, much like it seeps into our own fleeting thoughts every day. The guilt Tsukuru carries is through that selfish belief that we are the centres of the spiritual instigation. The answer is, "no, we are not," but that journey is eloquently punched in through Murakami's words as the world unfolds for Tsukuru, and in turn, making him realize his meaningful existence in the end. This alienated hero, although lonely and without reason, becomes the most important person in the world to those around him. The point being personal perception is nothing compared to just existing.
The book slowly permeates a poetical epiphany, one that emphasizes substance in understanding the commonality within us. In its centre, Tsukuru's essence is like the rain, fleeting, but he captures it, keeping the reader still in his moments.