Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mammoth - Larissa Andrusyshyn (Punchy Poetry/DC Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Mammoth.  Larissa Andrusyshyn.  Punchy Poetry.  DC Books.  Montreal, Quebec.  2010.


Back in October of last year Today's book of poetry looked at Larissa Andrusyshyn's second book of poetry, Proof (Punchy Poetry/DC Books, 2014) and you can see that here:


The first thing Today's book of poetry said in that review/blog was that we wanted to get our meaty little hands Andrusyshyn's first book, Mammoth.  We did.

It is startlingly good which comes as no surprise here.  Andrusyshyn's one-two punch of Mammoth and Proof is a noteworthy accomplishment and one hell of an entrance to Canadian letters.

Mammoth could be seen, in part, as a scientific report on genetics and the moody behaviour of those under a variety of microscopes.  Andrusyshyn has the intricate eye of procedure that she apparently stole from some now blind scientist, she also has a streak of Darwinian glee in her anthropomorphous and delightfully necessary beasts repleat with human language and understanding.

What she does more than anything else is to write poems of such self evident truthfulness and perception that the reader willingly accepts the reason of mammoths, the contemplative nature of polar bears, the tell-tale beating of a petri-dish laboratory heart.

The Grizzly Man

Timothy is supposed to leave at the end of the season,
pack the bear-proof bins, the tent and video camera,
board a Cessna for the airport.

But he doesn't return
to the shrugging of airline employees,
the seat numbers, the exhausting trajectories
of airports and luggage that spins like cake slices
for the bored customer of windowless diners.

He stays in the grizzly maze,
the dense bramble on the nature reserve
where he hides his camp from the parks department.

The view from here is something
and the grizzly bear knows this place.
But the bear does not wish to be Timothy
and he does not think of humans
or hold up lenses to watch them with.

Days later, when the parks department finds the campsite,
they bag the evidence, shoot the bear
and collect the remains.

Someone recovers the video camera
and there are hours and hours of footage: Timothy
touching the wet muzzle of a sow, talking to the bears,
calling them by their names.

...

Today's book of poetry knows we shouldn't laugh at that story, so turn away for a moment because it makes us howl.

Larissa Andrusyshyn happily employs the scientific worlds of biology, anthropology and numerous other ologys, Andrusyshyn renders them clever tools as she navigates those belief systems for us, translates so that the terrain makes our poetry hearts race.  If Mammoth weren't so damned spot on emotionally you'd almost think someone as clever as Andrusyshyn was toying with us.

Polar Bear Caught on Ice Floe Updates Status

There's a spray of water and your skin seems to detach from
your skull in temperatures like that. The wind just drives
the vapor up your nose and it's all burning and salt. In the
photograph the glacier looks like a coral reef up close, real
close so you think you see the calcium hydroxyapatite
depositing itself there in microbial stacks. On top there's me,
so you might realize this could be the last piece of ice on
earth and they you'll wonder why it's all carved out like that,
with holes and a ledge that looks like it could just hold the
weight of a cartoon coyote for a split second before dropping
off the field of view. Below me there's the water so clear I can
see fifty feet down. Have you heard the sound of breaking
ice? It's like a giant door opening, a huge ungreased hinge
or the crack of trees before they fall and you feel like you are
about to step out into an important moment like a moon
landing or something.

...

Milo, our head tech, was tickled pink this morning when I foisted Mammoth on the staff for the morning read.

"This is that Proof poet!  Right!?"

Milo could hardly contain his enthusiasm and it was infectious.  This morning's reading was quick paced in a room full of smiles.

Mammoth reads smart and clean, the poems give themselves to the reader with such self-evident precision and common sense that Today's book of poetry had to look behind the covers to see if it was a trick.  Andrusyshyn impressed Today's book of poetry with ProofMammoth confirms it, this is a poet full of golden promise.

Waiting Room

The waiting room is teeming with news
and updates, white blood cell levels
and the flight details for your friends from Winnipeg.
We visit you in shifts, in manageable numbers.

What I want to do is write something completely
giddy. Something about sea horses. Polygons,
cappuccino scum. The elbows of mediocrity.

You pull the oxygen mask away to talk
and your father frowns.
Lungs filling with blood, you are trying to remember
a recipe for bread. You stop and take breaths.
You keep repeating "three cups of flaxseed flour."
Behind the mask that fogs and clears,
your voice is a blizzard, an operatic storm.
We lean against each other motionless, someone
is writing the recipe down, because we want
to bake the bread again, because it was the bread you brought
to the last party we remember. You start again from the 
   beginning
and we hang like the troubled hands of murderers.

...

Mammoth isn't all sunshine and blue sky.  Andrusyshyn gives us a fair share of the certainty of death at the end of the ride -  but her entertaining poems make it a more worthwhile journey.

Two books in and Larissa Andrusyshyn has made a big fan out of Today's book of poetry.

Larissa Andrusyshyn
Larissa Andrusyshyn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larissa Andrusyshyn’s first book Mammoth (DC Books 2010) was shortlisted for the QWF First Book Prize and the Kobzar Literary Award. Her poems have been shortlisted for Arc Magazine’s Poem of the Year and the Malahat Review’s Open Season Award. She works with a local non-profit to offer creative writing workshops to at-risk youth. She lives, writes and is planning her zombie apocalypse survival strategy in Montreal


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