Monday, August 2, 2010

Some Love for Jailbreaks

Always nice to see written responses to a book two years after it's been published (i.e., long after it's been actively promoted and stocked by stores, in 99% of cases), but I was especially pleased to be alerted to this review of Jailbreaks by Jonathan Ball. I appreciate the review not so much for the generous things it says about the quality of the book--I take praise or censure as pretty much value-neutral qualities in reviews of my work--but for the clarity and intelligence of certain insights Ball has. Most notably this: " I’ve never been convinced that the sonnets of the more radical poets, poets whose work I admire profoundly, have ever really been that great. " Which is, for me, far more the issue at hand than aesthetic affiliation, which was of no interest to me in assembling the book. Ball goes on to mention a specific sonnet by BP Nichol, which I was glad to see. That sonnet, which has been anthologized by Gary Geddes, was on my longlist and came close to making the cut, but I ultimately felt that it had only made it that far because of my own eagerness to be as eclectic as possible in my choices; I cut it because I couldn't in good faith include it at the expense of a stronger poem. Ball's assessment of that poem's failure--both as a poem and as a poke in the sonnet's ribs--is bang on.

One of the things I was hoping Jailbreaks would do is open up and reorient discussions of what it means to be "traditional" or "innovative." So I was also glad to see Jonathan point out poems by Klein and Elsted, poets who aren't associated with the avant-garde, but who are far more innovative in their manipulations of diction, syntax and grammar--particularly in the two poems cited--than most poets who claim to be "experimental." Elsted's poem was one of my favourite discoveries while doing research for the book, not just because of its formal uniqueness, but because I knew of him only as a printer/publisher prior to coming across his lone trade poetry collection in the stacks at Dalhousie's Killam library.

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