Monday, December 13, 2010

On why I read poetry and Michael Dennis’s “Coming Ashore On Fire”

There is beauty in almost anything if you look hard enough. I think of the images of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, the sweat and blood coming off De Niro’s face in slow motion. Dirty ashtrays, peeling wallpaper, and a man screaming drunk in his underwear with a matching beer gut – beautiful? Maybe if it was written by Bukowski.

Like a lot of my pot smoking, beer drinking peers in high school, I fell in love with the writings of Bukowski for the very reason that he wrote about those things. He spoke to me. He wasn’t just a dead white guy (at least not at the time) that my English teacher would present to us and then pedantically and robotically go over and over until every kid understood what the meaning of the poem was. What is Mr. So-And-So saying, Mr. McPherson? What is the significance of this poem?

As I grew up my love affair with Bukowski persisted. It wasn’t because I continued to drink and smoke pot (though I did, but perhaps with less frequency), but rather my love of Bukowski’s poetry grew into to something more than just admiration for someone who was drunk, screaming in his underwear and writing about it. No, I read Bukowski because the guy is a great fucking writer. At least most of the time. Well, at least sometimes. Okay, sometimes he writes shit. However, bad Bukowski is better than 90% of the contemporary poetry I read.

Why do I read poetry? The answer to that is similar to why I watch films, why I read fiction, why I watch TV, and why I listen to music. Is it for entertainment? Absolutely. But that’s only half the story. It is also to have the world reflected back to me through the eyes of another. We are solipsistic creatures through and through (unless you’re conjoined twins of the brain). What I mean by this is that we are born, live, and die inside our own heads. I need to take on faith that those around me are experiencing the same thing as I am. Art, let it be film, TV, poetry or prose, dance, or music, it does this for me: it lets me inside other people’s heads to let me know that I’m not alone. I also expect art to challenge me, make me think. I expect to be sometimes repulsed, angered, and even sickened. I expect laughter, sadness, and joy. I know that sometimes I will be bored or disappointed. Not every poem or film or song can be great, or even good for that matter. That’s okay. That’s the way it should be. When I read poetry however, I have much different expectations than sitting down to watch some Hollywood blockbuster. I read poetry to be entertained in a much different way, one where you definitely don’t leave your mind at the door. No, the mind is fully on and with you. I also expect beauty and elegance in the same way I expect character development in a film or a novel. I want to read poems that make me get off my couch and scream “This son-of-bitch is brilliant!” I want poems that can bring me to tears. I want poems that when I finish them, I need to stop for five minutes and reflect on my own life. I want poems that make me laugh out loud. I want the mores of my society reflected back to me. I want to be challenged.

A friend of mine, a poet, told me that he was working on a new collection of poems. He said that the collection was just for him. He said he didn’t care if anyone understood what the poems meant. I told him that him that he owed his reading public the common decency of making a poem that is coherent on some level, not a bunch a random babble. If these poems are really for yourself, then please, go ahead and write your guts out. Then take those poems and put them in your closet. Take it out when you want to read them, and then put it back. Please don’t show them to anyone. And please, please don’t try to get it published, because you probably will.

I don’t want to read poems that are puzzles, enigmas, things that needed to be decoded. I’ll do the Sudoku or the word scramble in the newspaper if I want that kind of challenge. Hence I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry.

I do however read, Michael Dennis. He is a poet that reflects the world back to me through a soft and sometimes touching, and often very personal lens. His latest collection of poetry is “Coming Ashore on Fire” (2009 burnt wine press). The poems here are like a basket of different sized, different coloured eggs, gems and wine stained corks. Some so delicate that you place the book down gingerly between readings. Others, hard and beautiful but raw. And other, lazy day love poems to his wife, where you can smell the wine coming off the page. It is a shame that this book did not receive more attention, because it damn well deserves it. When I think of Ottawa poetry, I think of Michael Dennis. He is Canada’s Bukowski. Perhaps a softer and gentler version, but still, a poet that should be read.

If you have lost faith in finding readable contemporary poetry, then grab a copy of “Coming Ashore on Fire” and be reborn.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

New Article in Your Ottawa Region

Just in time for Christmas, a local author has published a novel to which many Ottawans can relate, poking fun at bureaucratic cubicle culture.
Christian McPherson’s The Cube People looks at the life and times of a struggling computer programmer and wannabe novelist, Colin MacDonald.

Surrounded by a cast of screwball characters at his government job, MacDonald toils away while dealing with fertility treatment and dreaming of becoming a published writer.
“I’ve been a civil servant for the last 13 years,” said McPherson. “I know cubicle culture well, so writing this novel was partly a cathartic release for me; a way to vent out my daily frustrations with work.”
While the writing is consistently funny, it is also candid about the absurdity of white-collar culture. Through the story of his effort to make his way in the world of publishing, McPherson communicates his hope for redemption and the possibility of a happy ending.
“The book is not just about cubicle life though, it’s also about trying to get published in Canada and what it’s like to go through fertility treatment,” said McPherson.
“It took my wife and I almost three years to get pregnant with our first child and almost the same amount of time to get my first book published. So I wanted to write about those struggles also.”
Dealing with recycled air, bad lighting and bizarre office policies by day and scheduled love-making sessions and rejection letters by night, the novel’s main character tries to write his way out of his cyclical life story. Part tragedy, part comedy — with a bit of horror thrown in for fun — McPherson cooks up a boiling plot and a memorable anti-hero.
He said he wanted to write a contemporary novel that was funny and that people could really relate too.
“I wanted to let readers know that they are not alone and there is hope,” McPherson said.
“I think a vast number of people work in cubicles, especially in Ottawa, and I thought this novel would resonate with a lot of readers.”
“Also, with people having children later in their lives, more and more people are running into fertility issues. I wanted a novel that captured this struggle.”
McPherson says his novel so far seems to be hit with readers and he hopes for a runaway smash success, perhaps allowing him to escape from his own cubicle confinement.
Born and raised in the Glebe and Ottawa South, McPherson began writing The Cube People in 2007.

- Eddie Rwema

Friday, December 03, 2010

Upcoming Signings

I will be signing copies of my new book, The Cube People, at Read's Book Shop (130 Lansdowne Ave., Carleton Place, ON) on Saturday, December 4th between 12:30 and 3 pm.

I will be signing copies of The Cube People at Solstice Books & Music (812 ch. Riverside, Wakefield, QC) on Saturday, December 11th from 12 to 2 pm.

I will be signing copies of The Cube People at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood Ave., Ottawa) on Saturday, January 15th from 12 to 2 pm.

I will be signing copies of The Cube People at Britton's Glebe (846 Bank St., Ottawa) on Sunday, February 6th from 1 to 3 pm.