Monday, December 19, 2011


rob mclennan Reviews

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic by Jake Kennedy
(BookThug, Toronto, ON, 2011)
Study of Dog Print in Snow

the sun going down
teeth of the miter saw

in a prison wall

having been to a place
and needing to go on,

well, do it: exit
despite the bad-ass years

under a crown of shadows
with four drops of rain

falling into the mouth
of the stone well

the spatulate leaves
around the manhole

silhouette of the carnival wheel
before an eclipse

The poems that make up the two sections of Kelowna, British Columbia poet Jake Kennedy’s collection Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011), the title section and “Light & Char,” appear to reference the modernist approach to painting as study, and the idea of the poem as small essay, reminiscent of poets such as Paul Celan, or even Anne Carson’s Short Talks (London ON: Brick Books, 1992), citing poems as small essays composed as short conversations. Throughout the collection, Kennedy manages each poem as an exploration, merging ideas of painting and the essay into explorations of art, history, language, ideas and events, as well as a series of writers, artists and other figures, including Gertrude Stein, Cy Twombly, George W. Bush.

The second section, “Light & Char,” was published in 2010 as a chapbook through Vernon, British Columbia publisher Greenboathouse. This is a series of small conversations in a single thread of speech that begins with the poem “Preamble” as introduction, ambling a beginning even before it starts, as sharp as any speech, and with its challenge issued in the last line, writing “the page / ignites for light and char.” As the chapbook description on the Greenboathouse website reads:
Light & Char is a series of 15 prose poems, each playing within and without the confines of binaristic thinking to explore the productivities stored in the nexuses of, say, yes-no worldviews, right-wrong logics, abstract-concrete divisions, happy-sad categorizations, life-death paradigms. Much of the umph of the poems is derived from a poetic strategy of what-ifs: what if nails were earthworms, what if skyscrapers grew down from the clouds, what if knives could breathe? The title of the collection – as it invokes both illumination and darkness, whiteness and blackness, growth and decay &c. – necessarily places its emphasis on the cobra-like tension of the ampersand.

Not merely a book about light and dark, this small collection merges light with dark, and the light that burns so bright it turns all else to ash, turning even to consume itself, and exists in counterpoint to another recent title, his poetry collection The Lateral (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2011), winner of the 2010 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. As Nathaniel G. Moore wrote in Open Book Toronto, “The Lateral includes a found long-poem that culls all the ‘Acker’ keyword tags from the Flickr database and repurposes them as ‘words-of-lament’ for the highly influential writer Kathy Acker.”

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic is very much a suite of explorations, of small studies in a sequence. Still, for all the tight lyric cadence of his poems, the weight of his movement, there is a lightness that moves at breathtaking speed, at breathtaking ease, leaping from point to point. There are multiple “what if” paths laid out in Kennedy’s poems, from writing “The flies have the nature of asterisks spinning in / turpentine.” (“On Longing (Paintings)”) to “To forget the purpose of either recollection or / amnesia, then the box exists.” (“On Memory (Boxes)”). Kennedy writes turmoils of collage and collision, phrases and concepts masterfully mashed-up into something electric, faux-masquerading as more conservative, more respectable structures. As much as these read as small essays, small talks, these poems exist too as explorations in pure movement and sound, and packed with references to the Tollund Man, Scooby Doo, Samuel Beckett, Paul Celan, John Cage, Rilke, Apollinaire, Eadweard Muybridge, Osip Mandelstam and Euripides. Through his small handful of books and chapbooks so far, Kennedy could easily be called an explorer of forms, working through a sequence of structures, project by project; I wonder, what is he working his slow way towards?

            after Erin Mouré

A moose is a reprimand to the forest's
awe at falling leaf
as if value adheres only in stillness and the tiny.

The moose typically shits atop the glass lake.
A moose is a hair-do covered in candelabra-webs.
It's a word which stands for that solitude

found in a number of oil-based
contexts: black pond, summer field,
approaching storm.

In practice, it is usually an organism which,
by its movements,
resembles three adults: head, back, and asshole.

In a moose world, snow collects
on top of the long head
in order to cool the heat of the brain.


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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