Review of Christine Leclerc’s Oilywood on the Town Crier

It was a damn pleasure to review Christine Leclerc’s bpNichol award-winning Oilywood for the Town Crier as part of its Feb.-long look at politics in/and/of literature, “Different Ways of Seeing.”

Oilywood… operates like a cut-up filmstrip of biographical and autobiographical reflections on coastal life in BC’s Burrard Inlet. The action is prompted by increasingly public and dubiously legal tar sand/oil industry incursions into the region. Spliced into this film strip’s em-dash cuts are a ticker tape of oil giant Kinder Morgan’s news releases and a scattering of terse, italic interjections—“hear something,” “fish on rocks,” “who gets to belong here,” “shifting baseline.”

Over sixteen sections, a modest 1–3 pages each, the focus oscillates between reflection and news release, suggesting a tug-of-war between community and corporate discourse.

OilywoodBW

Read the full review at the Town Crier, but first, if you will, a few notes that didn’t make it into the review:

Partially based on interviews and workshops with Burrard Inlet residents, Oilywood salmon-leaps out of the overtly communal Canadian documentary poetry tradition (inaugurated by Dorothy Livesay’s Call My People Home) rather than an Anglo-American Romantic biographical docupoetics (Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Crane’s The Bridge).

Leclerc also comments slyly on an avant-garde digital docupoetics, exemplified by Kenneth Goldsmith’s manifesto Uncreative Writing. In positioning the writer as selector/collagist/curator of the sublime quantity of extant texts, Goldsmith and other digital docupoets aren’t so much reinventing writing as they are adding yet another entry in a long line of uncreative poetics: Classical furor poeticus, Romantic madness (and the Aoelian Harp plucked by wind), Modernist automatic writing (and the mechanistic unconscious plucked by trauma).

Here’s one of Leclerc’s comments on documentary automatism. In the spirit of my review, I’ll leave it unpacked.

I wanted a picture. So I took one
with my phone and moved closer. No
one stopped me and no one cared.

I went closer, and the pipeline was
white. It jutted out beyond the edge
of the dock and it didn’t make a sound.
I wanted to take another shot as my
shorts wicked wave water.
[…]
And my phone was gone.

It was stupid to have dropped it. It fell
out of my pocket.

But the water crashed harder. My feet
went cloven and my eyes went like a
dog’s nose.
[…]
There was an orange light in the
shallows, by the woods, as the waves
tossed my phone in the sand, my
phone still taking pictures.

Video reading of “Counting Half The World”

Although I’ve only just glimpsed into the windows of London’s poetry community, I think it’s a testament to that community’s seriousness (and its generosity toward less acclaimed poets) that the organizers of the London Open Mic Poetry Night record each performance and post the videos online. My thanks to them.

Here’s me reading “Counting Half The World” on Feb 4th (with stuttering preamble). (Note I’m reading directly out of the Hart House Review’s Winter Supplement, where “CHTW” was published last month.)

It was an impressive night, so check out the other videos on the account–particularly Poetry London blogger Kevin Heslop‘s “On the difficulty of describing bill bissett”:

Current Western University Writer-in-Residence Gary Barwin was the evening’s featured reader, and his first poem, “inside,” got me thinking about political poetry (and the politics of the politics of literature, and the politics of aesthetic prescriptivism in the guise of anti-prescriptivism) in a way that informs an upcoming post of mine on the Town Crier. The video below is cued up to (just before) Barwin performing “inside.”