by Melanie Janisse

Sina Queyras
BookThug, 2009
168 pages, $20

“What would happen if critics chose to write from a position of wonder instead?” — Sina Queyras, Unleashed

Dear Sina,

My friend Ross McKie has been after me to read your book for some time now. So, when Denis asked me to review it for Mansfield, I felt it was our proper time to meet, albeit awkwardly, here in the public domain, the sphere of the review (and as a poet/reviewer refusing to review a poet/reviewer). We mystify separately, you and I, but on similar trains heading in toward the same sun. After reading your book, I simply could not review it, so I decided instead to write you a letter. I find this a more interesting format, one that is underused, archaic, yet flexible. One that bends with me toward you as I write, instead of forcing my hand into academic structures, referential and dusty commentary, texts missing your texts, missing the point.

Let me tell you a bit about Ross. He cheers me on for poems and listens frequently when I whine about my fear of the public domain, Canadian literature and the timbre of my voice. He keeps insisting I read Lemon Hound and has been known to send me the link over and over via Gmail chat. He, of course, found it the perfect irony that we be introduced this way.

“It is filled with seashells and looks as though it is a mound, although of course it is only a quadrant…. [T]he best part is the letter to Warhol on the wall outlining instructions for care. If the mirrors were to break they could be replaced by common mirrors — ‘they are not precious,’ but the shells themselves had to be replenished by a pilgrimage to the beach in Florida where they originated.” — Sina Queyras, Unleashed (on Burtynsky at the Whitney)

So, let’s see. How many mirrors can we hold up at once? While I type this to you, I am watching the Essex County countryside fly past me courtesy of ViaRail. I am watching my lover sleep in the down of his comforter in Brussels via Skype. I am considering the First Nations woman in front of me and thinking she is Ojibwa, like parts of me. I have spent the weekend on the southernmost populated island in Canada, with birders, writers, doctors, weavers, old bikes, ancient farmers and babies (not in that particular order) and will spend my week in Toronto looking for god in the smallest of things. So, dear Sina, your book has devoured me, it has tipped off a volcano. I have become obsessed with your endlessness, as it wakes up my own lake of desire, endlessly. I desire the rope letters of kevin mcpherson eckhoff tattooed along my heart centre. I desire the drawings of Kenneth Patchen, his book title and name penned down for me in the perfect handwriting of Nicky Drumbolis as I leave his studio — Patchen’s ketchup, coffee litanies and visions swimming in my head. I want them archived, eaten like hosts, bitten into at the table of my kitchen. I want my bed lined in early Canadian surrealist chapbooks, left behind when their creators became old, moved to Mexico. I want to make a nest in this, and I think it is partially your fault.

You say this: “She thinks we have become a nation of sifters. We dial up and sift through the wreckage.”

So true. Sina, we pick through the bones, the thrift shops, the internet. What are we all looking for, never mind what it is some of us are looking to contribute? Personally, I feel like a strange weaver, a magpie, a rag and bones seller, an alchemist. Myself, I mine existence for a certain type of grace, one that enchants me to my very seat. I frequently pray for the impossible, for forests on barges, for a deep misunderstanding of reality. Perhaps instead of all this fool’s gold we should revive the Digger movement, find the earth, our interrelationship to the temporal, real ground? I am not sure anymore how to proceed.

And again you reach me with this: “But most of us are not staring into fires, we are staring into screens.”

I am on my way home from Pelee Island and my train is passing through small marshes, reeds, gravel, piles of wood stakes as I make my way back to the city. I am recalling a conversation I had once with my Skype-sleeping Belgian, whose very hopes of Canada were dashed under the Granville Street bridge talking to a drunken Salish woman. How harsh it is to realize that your hopes of wilderness are that of a boy’s dreaming of our country from his Euro-civilization? He handled it well, but it took some time. He could have used a conversation with Jeff Wall to try and make some sense of things, but alas, alas.

I was just telling Steven Price that I yearned for the exchange of letters between poets like it once was, before all of this interfacing and instant, quick-draw vernacular. I decided this review should be a love letter. Forget complex academics (men’s playground anyways); how about instead, I woo you? My knees quaked when I discovered that we were at the very same time shopping in Value Village and listening to Lisa Robertson reciting her poems. I purchased nothing for myself, but watched Damian Rogers find several treasures and fold them into a shopping cart. I found a Gaultier blazer and insisted on buying it for a stranger, whom it fit perfectly. We were two woman ships passing each other with shopping carts. Perfect, no?

I find it timely that I have found you. It has become my turn to find my courage, wear my terror like a medal, a strange plume. It is my turn to enter into this sphere of rhetoric, and I have your texts here for comfort, for reference, to lean onto like the arm of a good chair. I have decided to use one of your sentences like a shield.

“For my part, I don’t argue anymore — I just take up space.”

Consider this not-review my breath sucking in and out, inhabiting the water like a jellyfish, surprisingly strong for such a soft entity. I am ready to sting, ready to shape-shift, relying on the toughness of my skin against the pressures of the ocean. I am terribly fragile as I float here amongst the leatherback turtles and tuna that are circling, and yet, here I am.

Here is a gift for you that I found via Facebook (I know, I know):

“Poetry is a bit like architecture or engineering. It’s really about holding things together or keeping them up.” — Paul Muldoon (via Rina Espirtu).

I don’t love the same things as you, but where our tastes miss each other is room for difference, a respect for someone else’s interest in culture, art, poetry. Myself, I am dining out with Jane Bowles these days while in the city. I bite into her potatoes roasted over open fires, sexual tension, contractions. These are my nightly habits. Ruminating over strange beds where I lie away from exposure, never once considering that in this very hollowed-out nest I was the most exposed, the most vulnerable. Bowles has a hidden camera in the bedroom above the restaurant where I have just made a fool of myself one more time. I am eating potatoes, with Jane, somewhere again in the west end of Toronto, daring myself to remain exposed like this. I hope one day we run into each other. Maybe we can discuss disappearing Cheshire mentors, rubber chickens, trains, lovers on Skype, pomes, whatever. Until then, I thank you for unleashing yourself on us, for holding up houses of soft architecture with all of your might, for the mighty columns you have built out there for us all to marvel at.

Melanie Janisse

Melanie Janisse is a native of Windsor, Ontario. She holds degrees in Communications from Concordia University and Visual Arts from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Now a resident of Toronto, Melanie keeps active as a visual artist, poet, designer and shop owner. Orioles in the Oranges (Guernica, 2008) is her first collection of poetry.

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