The bluebirds in their beige hours nodding;
nothing reasoned nothing reined, the dire
quarrel put by until brunch, another polite
tiff over forcemeats and poaching limits.
Wherefore art thou, rodeo? Not your average
dong presiding over the hazmats and the
gone gone gone. Whittle it down, Georgie.
Yank the big chain back and stare it in the
mangle—this fabulous accident, planes
descending firebrand over the hard knocks
and the breezy frieze. Where's the club pro?
Whither wherewithal? What gives, really?
The shred cry of metal crescending—
grind it up, dogs, you pounds of freedom.
(from Drift, Anansi, 2005)
Canadian poet Kevin Connolly's a sneaky bugger. Like David McGimpsey, Connolly often plays within the bounds of a conventional form. In Drift, Connolly nestles into the book 25-plus poems that could be considered sonnets. Or sonnet-ish, anyway. In form, “Spell G.O.D” is pretty traditional. It's got three quatrains and a couplet. It's got the sonnet's characteristic direction-changing volta in the couplet. And moreover, each line has more or less 10 syllables. True, it's not iambic. True, there are no end rhymes (unless you count the/the in the second stanza) but otherwise, “Spell G.O.D” is formally conventional.
“Spell G.O.D.” takes place mid-air. Like most sonnets, it's an act of balance. Here, beginning in line 5 we have a picture of a plane crash. Connolly invites us to “stare it in the // mangle.” But what's with the first stanza being about something totally different? Where did the “club pro” come from? What does “pounds of freedom” mean?
The logic is associative rather than narrative. It eschews the handholding transitions imply. This is typical of “angry young formalism,” a strain probably encouraged by his editor Ken Babstock (who edited both Drift and Connolly's new book Revolver.)
Mid-air, eh? The space formerly occupied by the wrecked plane gets top billing. The air dominates up the entire first quatrain. It's like so much contemporary art photography, where focus and framing provide you with an untold, tertiary or otherwise strange vista. A part standing in for the whole—or something else entirely acting as a stand-in. And that is the key to successful surrealism, as I understand it.
Oh, and word choice. Look how slick Connolly is with the closed form. He packs in vivid words, many of them monosyllabic, to max out the potential of his 140 syllables. I'm talking about words like “tiff” and “yank” and “shred.” Connolly then has the space to use colloquial language (ironically, to my ear) such as “hard knocks” and “what gives, really?” ...I think “What gives” is a brilliant end to the final quatrain: lean and plainspoken but also surreal and pointed.
Kevin Connolly is reading from his new book, Revolver (Anansi, 2008) at 8pm at Library and Archives Canada. Revolver claims to be a book of one-poem-per-voice poems, but they all sound a lot like Connolly to me. And the less they sound like Connolly, the less I like them. Which is, I guess, a compliment. Anyway, I'm curious and I can't wait to hear it straight from the proverbial horse's' mouth. Connolly's books sold out at the Writer's Fest early in the week. I'm not surprised. This is sure to be a monster reading.