Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sudden book launch

And no, that doesn't mean this was an unplanned launch. It refers to the title of Elizabeth Bachinsky's new book, Home of Sudden Service (Nightwood Editions). This meant a new page for the poetry series at Maple Ridge's ACT, as usually it's Liz who's doing the hosting, not the reading.

Among the poems she read was the beautiful, "Pack" with its opening stanzas:

We learned to sell ourselves early in life. Got badges
for good sales and how to sew. The deft among us praised
for the perfect square knot, we chanted, feverishly
fumbling, Right over left, left over right and under . . .

Polite, our socks yanked tight up under our knees,
we made vows to the Queen. We really meant them.
Our secret hand signals, our hierarchy,
we were like the Freemasons, only smaller.

I love the simple, naive honesty of a line like 'We really meant them.'

Bachinsky is a terrific reader, serious enough about performing her poems that she's taken vocal instruction. It shows. When she dropped her voice into the chant, 'Right over left...' you could almost see the furrowed brow of an earnest nine-year-old.

But she writes about more than the world of nine-year-olds. She's got either a heck of a memory or an even better imagination, because man, she's got the teen angst thing down perfectly, complete with hormones. Consider this, describing her lustful plans for boys:

(from "At Fifteen")
. . . They are so polished
beneath their shirts and jeans.
They are so lean, penises
rearing, eager, impatient as ponies.

This poem, dedicated to Irving Layton, makes me think Layton must must be hovering somewhere nearby, chortling lecherously at these lines.

The night was rounded out by an opening performance from the always-entertaining Lyle Neff. The Vancouver poet, who's always seemed to want to be thought of as a bit of a bad boy, has mellowed with fatherhood. For one thing, it's made him look at death differently.

He riffed his way through a batch of poems from his latest collection, Bizarre Winery Tragedy (Anvil Press). When he came to the close of a piece called "Think of Teeth," he offered this bit of self-criticism "a bit precious at the end." To which I say, "No, Lyle. The words simply complete the piece."

And to close this piece, I offer an uncharacteristic portrait of Neff -- on his knees. I'm not sure if he was begging Liz for an autograph, or was simply in ready-set position for the long race back to the city.

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