Coach House Launches More Wicked Titles This Fall.
After a great time at the BookThug launch, I headed over to The Garrison for the Coach House launch on Thursday, October 3rd. Despite the fact that I arrived half an hour early to an empty room, I knew that the Coach House launch would be quite the affair, considering that Wayzgoose was one of the wildest parties I had been to in a long time.
By 8:30 p.m. the room was packed. Alana Wilcox, the editorial director at Coach House, took on the role of MC and kicked off the ’80s-themed affair, which was complete with complimentary glowsticks!
First to read were Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott, who read excerpts from their exciting new collaborative project, Decomp. The “extended photo–essay and prose poem,” as it is described on the Coach House website, is experimental in a dualistic sense, relying on the thrill of scientific discovery and the challenges posed by trying to create new work in our crowded postmodern existence. Collis and Scott traveled to five distinct ecosystems in British Columbia and left a copy of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in each site allowing it to decompose according to nature’s will. Once the elements made-over the texts, Collis and Scott reassembled the fragments into a collection of poetry and photography, giving Darwin’s seminal work a new creative edge. Collis and Scott read from the Coastal Douglas Firs Zone section of their book and demonstrated a clever aptitude for transforming scientific jargon into poetical imagery writhing with very human themes. Collis and Scott treat the text as something alive (despite a physical state of decomposition), referring to “the book’s damp body.” They enabled the listener to understand that “genetic morphology” extends beyond our concerns with strictly human anatomical reproduction. In my conversations following the evening’s readings, I found that Scott and Collis’s book was the most talked-about feature, and rightfully so.
Not to be outdone, however, Jon Paul Fiorentino provided his own spin on recycling received texts with his new collection Needs Improvement. The front cover looks like an elementary school report card and points to an overarching concern with pedagogy. The collection derives from an impetus to inflect “lexical decoration” with much-needed criticism and to call attention to how we can dangerously misread the authoritative dictates of society, especially those that shape our education system and our national and municipal identities as citizens. The second poem he read, “Salter Street Strike,” is a villanelle that uses the city motto of Fiorentino’s home town Winnipeg, “One With the Strength of Many” to critique the veracity of “official” descriptors of this very kind. Fiorentino urges, “it’s a healthy nostalgia if it owns you” and bravely puts the foundations of our government-approved identities in a precarious position.
Matthew Heiti read next, but not before playfully arguing that Sudbury, not Winnipeg, is the true armpit of the world. His reading was taken from the middle of his novel, The City Still Breathing, and erupted in an explosion of the word “fuck”; his main character wakes up wounded and alone in a shack only to get shot at some more. The main character is Slim, a citizen of Sudbury where a dead body has been found and lost. “Fuck is the limit of what Slim Slider can think and feel,” however the same cannot be said of Heiti, whose writing is visceral, fast-paced, action-packed and yet also very controlled. In the midst of Slim’s ranting, we have moments of thoughtful reflection as he attempts to find out how the people in the photograph before him could have possibly become the individuals they are today. The novel is sure to be entertaining as it presents a very modern spin on the crime story, alive with poetics and danger in a way reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.
Following Heiti, Margaret Christakos read from her ninth collection and fifth book published with Coach House: Multitudes. Before diving in, she remarked that Coach House has been a wonderful house to publish with because they enable her poetics to be “mobile” and do not overly concern themselves with questions of (popular) taste when it comes to selecting their authors. Like many of the authors reading that evening, Christakos’s thematic leanings can be placed squarely within the twenty-first century. Her first piece, “Status,” dealt with the ways in which we use social media to interact with one another; lines such as “we wanted faces with names we wanted names with faces” reflect the difficulty of “representing” our digital selves in the internet age. Christakos’s poetry can certainly be described as difficult as she breaks down language into its most basic constituent parts. Poems such as “Banish” may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you’re not interested in poetry that breaks apart words into sounds and syllables, void of any narrative components or imagery. Her third poem “Threshold” however, was much more accessible and enveloped speech and writing with the erotic capabilities of the body.
The last reader of the evening, David O’Meara, is also interested in a topical kind of poetry. His fourth book, A Pretty Sight, deals with the past and present, the here and now, and the socio-political objects and conversations we use to construct our realities. He read “Sing Song” a poem about karma that, while it was cynical, was also inherently honest in the portrait it portrayed of our modern moment. O’Meara writes, “crammed up the ying-yang with talking points and spreadsheets,” but amidst the bleak (metaphorical) drowning of kittens and pups, the poet offers a glimpse of redemption through the creative possibilities of repurposing our mistakes for poetry. O’Meara provides a good balance of rich language and everyday vernacular, and his collection appears familiar in its themes but inventive in its tone and structure.
Once the readings were over, the 80s playlist came on and the night’s revelry began. Both BookThug and Coach House have given us many writers whose books we can look forward to reading this coming winter and I anticipate more great books in the spring once we have finished hibernating and have completely thawed out. Ron Silliman noted, and I can’t help but agree, that the “scene” in Toronto is incredible. It was a pleasure to see many of BookThug’s audience come out to the Coach House launch, and last week only affirmed my belief that the Toronto literary climate, lucky to have a dedicated set of writers, editors, readers, and publishers wriggling to find out what’s new, is certainly something to boast and also to be excited about.