[Sharps]. Stevie Howell. Icehouse Poetry. An Imprint of Goose Lane Editions. Fredericton, New Brunswick. 2014.
The Today's book of poetry offices are empty this morning. The windchill it is -39C here in Ottawa - but get this, it has warmed up from yesterday.
Milo, our head tech and Kathryn, our new intern, both called in this morning with a case of the St. Valentine's Day Flu. The same telephone number popped up on the screen for both calls, quelle surprise.
Happy, happy, happy Valentine's Day my poetry puppets.
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ [Sharps] is made up of sledgehammer blows and razor-sharp ax swings. Get into it or get the hell out of the way, Stevie Howell cut Today's book of poetry to shreds. At every turn of the page Howell was able to bust up a different corner of my heart.
If you talk Rip Torn, if you dedicate a poem to Jimmy Webb you damned well better know the way to Phoenix and Galveston and every damned thing in between. And Howell does! She knows everything in some dark twist of fate. [Sharps] is an attempt to go public with her larceny and after reading it you're going to want more.
There's only one thing you can do
With a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity
about human biology.
You wake at sunset, yourself still,
a storm-eye of boredom, drink and LSD.
The only thing that
ever made sense, was tidy or clean:
how convenient and pre-emptive excuses are,
arising out of capitulated-to
desires, imbibing, cussing, so many
We can assume you were estranged
from yourself that night. But this is even truer
sober. We can guess your past
is a neighbour's unfinished basement,
and when you recline you feel his breath
on your freckles again.
You are a victim too, and the violence
of your life is all you've ever known. It gulps to unwind
its weaving, unknot, and breathe,
but undone can't be done
Rabbit trapped, quickening,
you march a man through a thicket, where no one
can hear him plead.
You crush by moving, mulch
the recently fallen autumn leaves, snap branches,
snag open the tear in your jeans.
It's a kind of transfusion.
There is some dark, dank and dangerous territory in Stevie Howell's world and she is fearless. Todays' book of poetry was dazed and confused several times before I cracked dawn at the end of Howell's [Sharps]. The language in these poems comes off of the page as though an Al Capone tommy-gun were spitting the words at you in a ratatatatatat exclamation, Howell spills it over the sides of the cup, she turns up the volume, more, more more more.
[Sharps] is exciting stuff - full stop.
Howell has the ability to both kick and kiss your ass at the same time. She is a poetry contortionist.
Airporter driver, ex-European tour guide, through Canmore says,
Canmore smokeless coal afforded war destroyers their
stealth. Stealthier. Carved out coal beds,
the town eroded, as a cough strip-mines and deepens.
The mine was shuttered in the seventies.
An open-mouthed, boomerang valley. The Olympic luge
was going to save it all, they said,
but the price was dear. Up on that peak, it is coiled and asleep.
They used if for that film about
the Jamaican boblsed team, Cool Runnings.
Now the wealth is folks clamouring in who aren't allowed
to buy a home in Banff. They come to ski
or hunt and try to stay -- royalty, celebrities, you name it.
But you have to own a business in town.
One woman, a doctor, schemed and plotted: promised
she'd open a medical office. Council said yes.
She bought a chalet up the side of a hill, leased a storefront on Buffalo,
placed a desk and phone inside, and never crossed
the threshold again. A bitter pill.
They filmed Brokeback Mountain on the Three Sisters. Little Big Man.
See those rocks there, those fingers
of rock like ribs? They say it's a man reclined. The Edge was filmed
up on that range. A terrible film, we can agree.
Alec Baldwin, his grimace and spittle-coated crescendos, beseeching
Sir Anthony Hopkins: How the fuck are we
going to get out of this hellhole? At the free screening
for the residents, we screamed: Look behind you,
you idiot! At the highway!
They dug animal tunnels beneath the road, like a colliery, and paved
animal bridges above. Cougars stalk their prey
from the bridges. Chain-link along the road discourages animals,
but doesn't repel them completely. Years ago, the big fire
cut us off from Banff. Wilder than anything Hollywood could dream--
smoke hurling bears, wolves, elk out of the woods--
ursus jaws, saber teeth, antlers, nautilus claws,
fur for miles, pummelling the fence,
droving their own hearts into the wire.
TBOP would be remiss if we didn't mention the spectacular cover on [Sharps]. Julie Scriver has given us an almost perfect looking book. Icehouse Poetry is making us all look better.
The best part of the Today's book of poetry world is opening up a book like Stevie Howell's [Sharps] If you love poetry, and we do, books like this fill you with hope, not necessarily in the world, but in poetry's ability to give you a real experience. Maryse Holder would have said "to give sorrow words."
[Sharps] is an ontological scat of particular beauty, it is a roller coaster ride worthy of St. Charles of Parker. Howell isn't trying to impress on us a system for a better understanding of God or faith but instead is sharing her rather unpredictable exuberance to light up some dark corners.
Ballad of Blood Hotel
A film on Bill Callahan,
I was to be the soundwoman.
The director and I rode a limo through Manhattan,
rented my equipment, then he queried what
I thought of every suit jacket he tried on at Kenneth Cole Reaction.
He insisted I sleep in
his 1-bedroom apartment,
informed me we would share a room when we visited
Drag City. Why didn't I move to New York to become
his live-in assistant? He darkened when I said I had a concert ticket
and plans that evening.
He filmed me while muttering
'I might not let you go -- and who'd know if I didn't?'
I made a fake call to a 'friend' as proof
someone was waiting for me. There's footage of this.
Outside, from a sticky payphone,
I cold-called hotels getting 'no, no, no';
until a vacancy by the Hudson, a scoliotic mansion.
A man inside a bullet-proof terrarium, lined in wire,
with taped up chicken-scratch signs: No visitors in rooms.
TV show laugh tracks
ricocheted through the ingress.
Four locks. Inside, a double-hung window,
the faint waft of bleach. The sun-faded floor
highlighted a dark rectangle where the bed had once been.
A black cockroach
the size of a butterflied sausage
hustled across the plaster wall and clung
to the window screen. I pulled down the pane, trapped him
in the lower sash, and he body-drew a panicked infinity sign.
from my scalp as I staked
blattaria. Closet: One wire hanger.
Nightstand: Bible-less. Beneath the bed: Not one mote
of dust. Behind the headboard, instead of bugs, an inch-wide
ray of blood sprayed
down the wall, thick as a surveyor's
fluorescent cross on an arterial. A line
steadied by force, the splatter deviated from mean,
skewed left. An ax, no doubt, one blow, to a person prone.
I kneeled on the bed and wept
about Woody Allen, Joan Didion, even Billy Joel's
insipid hit, A New York State of Mind. A class action lawsuit
ought to be launched over the decades of artists' propaganda that lures
you to New York, only to find yourself using a rooming house's
where a man is asleep or expired
in a shower stall, door agape, water pelting his rump
like an instagram of a foreign countryside. 'Well, that's one way to escape.'
Bill Callahan fired the filmmaker on the third day.
There's all this.
There's all this.
There's all this unedited tape.
Stevie Howell just won over some serious fans here at Today's book of poetry. I can hardly wait to foist this upon the troops when they return tomorrow. /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ [Sharps] is so good you should wear gloves, it might cut you.
It got me right to the bone.
(photo by Neil Harrison)
ABOUT THE AUTHORStevie Howell’s poetry and criticism have appeared in publications such as The Walrus, Maisonneuve, The Globe and Mail, and National Post.
Her poems have been finalists for the 2013 Montreal International Poetry Prize and the 2012 Walrus Poetry Prize.
She is from Scarborough, lives near the Mink Mile, and studies psychology.
"These poems are coded emergency and emergent code; hail, cut glass, cathedrals, systems, skeletons, and scorched earth. Stevie Howell has found a fault line underwriting Reality and turned this fissure, this terrible brokenness, into a lens. She sees the queasy, exact particular and can phase from its contours into metaphysics and back before we sense the ground shifting. As astounding debut. An astonishing collection, full stop."
- Ken Babstock, author of Methodist Hatchet
Live at the Thirty-fifth Taddle Creek Happening
(June 12, 2015)
video: Taddle Creek
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