Today's book of poetry: For Display Purposes Only. David Seymour. Coach House Books. Toronto, Ontario. 2013.
The long arm of Don McKay reaches across Canadian contemporary poetry like a giant benevolent octopus of reason. David Seymour's most excellent For Display Purposes Only, was strongly influenced by advice from Don McKay. Good advice. Good poems.
The man who was killed died. The gun
had gone ballistic in the parking lot. Up 'til then
all he'd done was have nothing to lose.
His hair was growing right out of his face.
Earlier, from the precipitate sky, hail the size
of golf balls pelted the clubhouse. Errant
hail-sized golf balls shanked the clubhouse
before the golfers ran for cover from the weather.
This occurred. On the fringe of suburbs
and their evident neighbouring. The cars
remained parked in the lot where he fell,
immobile necessary machinery.
The woman at the scene sporting leopard-print
spandex was way too realistic. She lacked
conspicuous panty lines. Her description,
though relevant, was weapon focused.
The report from the shots fired was heard variably
as a calendar sliding off a kitchen wall and the after-
vacuum of implosion. With decibel fluctuation,
distance and Doppler effect, reports varied.
Between the houses backing onto the tenth green,
aphids gathered all sounds within the 250-
to 45,000-cycle range of their tympana
and slept uninterviewed in the shade of hydrangea.
The passing cab driver had the largest
hippocampus among the onlookers, being
the least lost. This was scientifically proven
though need not be mentioned in the final.
Others were directionless - what they saw
they now knew had never not happened -
wondering how they had arrived here,
how here arrives. Post-storm light
struck the police cruiser windshield,
behaving as particles, or waves,
depending. Even as testimonials
hardened into notebook fact.
Plausible rival hypotheses
will arise in court. The incident
began more suddenly than the victim
expected, and will last much longer.
A short personal aside, a bit of personal history. My life was influenced by Don McKay as well. My wife and I met over 30 years ago in a university course on the long poem being taught by the poet Robert Hogg. My paper for the course was about Don McKay's great poem Long Sault. I met my wife because she wanted to borrow my notes. Thank you Don Mckay.
Then unbuoyant dread at the all-night
hot-dog stand. On the woozy cab ride home
the street turns trampoline, Olympic updates
play on ethnic radio. Cars lurch to the stops
like relics waiting for an archivist with foresight.
Sewer smells, primary, combine then cancel out.
Faces of the passersby broadly range
the zone of cranky and dissatisfied. What
happens badly comes in threes but never
does triangulate, while they waver, gather
patternless at crosswalks, not as sums
of chance but slim chances held against.
Probably, we're told, it's not success
or doing our job well that counts, but
to recuperate from unexpected failures.
The business district's scrapers look like saints
about to levitate, every ad's in love with us;
condo cranes are angels poised again to strike.
And thank you David Seymour. Seymours inter alia, (Brick Books), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and For Display Purposes Only is likely to garner the same sort of attention. These poems and shorter prose poems read like micro movies, snippets of screenplays from movies you definitely want to see. Seymour never forgets he is writing poetry, line after taut line whips you in one directly, caresses you in another.
Natalie Zina Walschots (www.natialiezed.ca) calls David Seymour's Display Purposes "a combination of acid and honesty" that "serves Seymour exceedingly well", and she is right. Seymour has a Tarantino mental vocabulary and a Toronto sensibility, the two together are paralyzing. His line "you smell like my third wife" literally made me scream. And I am using literally correctly in a sentence, so bite me.
Several Occasions for Happiness
I've grown obsessed with preservation,
fold bedsheets crisply as unread books, stop clocks,
search for signs of eternity when buying produce.
If I shift my gaze to familiar faces and objects
with simplicity and without aspiration, I can stare for
hours and none of them will change. That which moves
away from me isn't necessarily afraid and that which
moves towards me is not always in love, I've learned
to say with cautious honesty, surrounded as we are
by the cavalcade of powers and lights and agencies,
some of which I'm for but also some
I am against - a happy coincidence I can be
both at once. Of happiness, I forget what I have done
so I imagine several occasions for it. They have many
likenesses, and each alike in part or whole, like most
of what's beyond my grasp. They're nameless as seconds.
They envelop, in their inane, fog-like disregard for details,
the bulk of what's transpired. Once I could conjure.
They take it without prejudice. They alter
something crucial in me as easily as conjugating
verb tenses. They confiscate my recklessness,
replacing it with refinement of taste. They take
their time. But they mustn't take my island.
It's all I have left to remind myself. The weather
here today is exactly as I remember it yesterday,
as mild as the week before. I'm convinced
this is remarkable, that this slight breeze is here
while the island remains, is theirs, too, but wonderous,
because it is. It is a perfect day for a swim.
I enjoyed For Display Purposes Only very much. Seymour is smarter than most of us but explains himself rather nicely so that we can understand. There are several prose poems, especially Cory on the Bash Awhile, and In the Company of a Lie that are spectacular builds that leave the reader abandoned with a panicky "what comes next?!". That's a good trick for any writer to pull off.
Corpsing This Century
I know what you are about to say and you know what
I'm about to say. This turns our conversation into a gas.
Despite pre-emptive vocal exercises I still avoid your eyes,
stare at the space left of your head and pretend I've just
come to, try to forget what you've said and will repeat;
but anticipation throws my better, composed self into a shit-
eating grin. When you use words like that I can't help it,
the fascination's morbid with me - history, politics eject
like plastic furniture from their seamless moulds, accumulate
unpatented, synonymous with landfill. Our miscues are
grave and the retakes no picnic. Because we're never not
aware of our surroundings. If you and I were in a Herzog
these would be the lines we couldn't get past, landing on the gag
reel as a gaff, thought they're the lines we'd continue to recite
until we nailed the scene. But we're not. In a film. So
these replays keep playing on a loop. Similarly, art resulting
from the exhaustion of easy living provokes a stifled laugh.
I should say absurdity sets in earlier and earlier. Whose was
that exhibit, the sculptural gack suspended in the dark only after
the opening ended, the patrons left? There's a memory, too,
that makes me crack; a friend falling in slow motion from another
friend's horse. I've reduced it, for deft recall during crises,
to his look of surprise and the expression of air leaving him
on impact. The serious is so ripe, a cathedral for hysterics, really.
When I convinced myself the man slumped against me in emerg
last night was only sleeping, scanned the room for loved ones
to come nudge him awake, nothing seemed remotely funny. Even
allowing the silence and proximity. What happened next, as you've
guessed, was approximately the same as what didn't. Composure's
about timing. You mustn't equate deadpan with a winning performance.
David Seymour's For Display Purposes Only left me wanting more.