The Surreal Quotidian : James Lindsay and Chris Chambers 2015 Buckrider Titles

You will have to forgive me but I need to review these two texts in tandem as, despite their distinctions, reading them together set up a chorus in my mind of what I am calling “mid life intelligent white guy sonorities”, both Lindsay’s first book and Chambers’ third trade title engaging in a kind of surreal reportage of strangeness cloaked as banality, oddity becoming the quotidian.

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Chambers, in Thrillows & Despairos, bequeaths us Dave Cook and pigeons, the Haiku Champ of Southeastern Etobicoke, the Great Jeffs of Insomnia and the Drunken Cyclist. Lindsay’s Our Inland Sea offers up Gordan Lish, Coney Island aquariums, ghost cities and the Museum of the Mirrors of the World. Chambers is way more wacky, his forms sliding all over the place into ellipses, exclamations and loopy utterances (“seeds or sawdust seeds or sawdust”, “whatcha gon uh DO”, “O defensive, beleaguered Torontonian!”). Barely a single poem looks the same from page to page which is refreshingly discombobulating. And he relishes rhymes, even silly ones as in “Pigeon: Two” where the last word in every second line of the couplet rhymes with “get” including “pirouette” “cigarette” and “Chevette.” Lindsay, despite his range of allusions and at times Stevensian titles like “A Language is a Dialect with an Army and a Navy” and “Burglary Eulogy,” presents with a greater seriousness of subject matter and thus a less lunging panoply of forms, though variety is there in rampant anaphora (“Comedians as people who still collect stamps/Comedians as Saskatchewan/Comedians as the summer you discover yourself”) , taut line breaks, and sectional poems versus sock-it-to-ya lyrics. Perhaps I can offer bits of stanzas from each that I enjoyed to give a glint of the zip that inhabits both collections.

Here’s Chambers from his longer final poem, “Kieslowski’s Toronto”: “there is no one/more beautiful than you in your navy bathing suit./Remember yourself to your former lover and/mix infidelity generously with sorrow/and grief – memories are vicious as shards of glass.” Or also, “Welcome needy grass, magnolia litter” (“May 1st”). And now, Lindsay’s from “Photography Summer School”: “These camera captures were our only rain: black strips projected/in reverse and dollike: costumed and posed, shimmering slick in the heat…”we hung the brittle negatives, decaying husks, hung them like we used to hang snakeskins from the ceiling beams for luck” or ooooh, even yummier, “wax/heads made from the death masks of miniature dead moons. There is a witness encased in the silica” (“Windows are the Opposite of Mirrors”). These fragments aren’t especially representative – and that’s the point – the tones and styles shift continuously, though a certain ironic and likely rueful stance marks both texts, an urban ennui, though the lexical energy remains, as in a fusion (thinking of Canpo anyway) of Robin Richardson with David O’Meara, Stuart Ross with Nyla Matuk. Unfortunately, there are a few perplexing typos in the Lindsay, mostly of the possessive kind (who’s death) and one (tuffs for tufts) that irked, while the Chambers seemed sleekly edited, so not sure what glitched there.

Still, smart poet-ikey stuff that twists the tongue and mind, if not so much the emotional center. The design of these books is also satisfyingly alluring with a galore of bird shadows and a singular splotch of blood.

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