Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dog Ear - Jim Johnstone (Signal Editions/Vehicule Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dog Ear.  Jim Johnstone.  Signal Editions/Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2014.

"I never met a man
with one
black eye
who wanted two"
                                                                                         from - "First Principles"
                                                                                                     Jim Johnstone

I get the distinct feeling from Jim Johnstone's Dog Ear that in his world vision  --  someone has to pay.

This is the dark end of a world out of balance, basic goodness is deeply suspect.

These poems are the loose tooth your tongue can neither solve or salve.  You feel them like a bruise. They are part of your flesh and bone, but a tender, sore part.

These poems are Michael Corleone sentencing Freddo to perdition while the Corleone matriarch still breathes.

Temps Mort

     Hell is empty.  All the devils are here.
                           -William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Look for a vanishing
point in tooth

and claw, the arrow
that predicts

equal and opposite
circles of hell.

Hell is of this world,
the wind blown

level with rooftops
on New Arthur,

cells re-circulating
as if symmetry

justified existence--
beauty where

nothing beautiful
had been.

Behind my back the

begins again and I 

whether I'm needed
to complete

this scene: an open-
ending plain,

body dissolving
where a dog-

fox circles its tail
until all that

has passed slows.
When time's

arrow repeats, its bow

and the Devil walks


These tight, taut poems are a bit like a nightmare you can't wake from.  A grimace that could turn to a smile, if only you could wake.

So, why would I recommend it?

Just ask our crying intern at Today's book of poetry.  Ask her why she loves the sad torture of Yukio Mishima, the painful kiss of Jean Genet.  Not all beauty wears a smile.

Louis Dudek, in Love

Umbrella held aloft like paper pulled
from a pinata, we trace the limits
of Marie-Reine-du-Monde and bull
inside. Bad luck: the basilica chaste
save for the confetti of our entrance,
the incline of a room within a room
inked-in in happenstance. By chance,
we've stumbled on our Waterloo:
elderly parishioners lulled to sleep,
pews like broken fingers on a working
hand. I take yours now, know your grip,
the clots that bulge like latticework,
confine the prize of blood's ascent.
See here? Your skin grows lean. Exeunt.


Where we might expect, even want, a love poem for passion, or even passive release we get:
"elderly parishioners lulled to sleep,
pews like broken fingers on a working

Johnstone is relentless with his dark lament, his "raw self-examinations" that encompass us all.


No one will find us in this city -- not your valentine,
not the line of dogs he's chained by the throat. My collar
blooms chin-high, is perfumed with lilac where you
finger buttons, parse leaves and hook a flush of green

to my breast. Tell me you're good. Tell me we'll
lend our touch to the nearest MG, drive south on a
sucker bet until we run dry in the desert. There are
others who've come uninvited, who've come to free

themselves from their skin, lose their grip
and trace in a mess of coins. Here's my loss -- fist
lodged in the maw of the first guest to speak, our
honour run aground. To stay we'll need to slap down

the pin that adorns your jacket, bet against a snail being
able to survive the edge of a straight razor. I've been
told that nothing can live to know such a lean blade.
When we drive land rises and we rise with it.


Jim Johnstone's breathless and forcefully consistent Dog Ear should be read early in the morning. Hopefully on a day that promises sunshine.

This dark beacon reminds us of our better nature, the dire abyss promised with its loss.

Not all poetry give us hope, the shape of reason is not always pretty.  Johnstone paints like Brueghel The Elder, beautiful pandemonium when the harsh light of the human heart is fully revealed.

What a riveting read.  What an ominous outlook.

Jim Johnstone

Jim Johnstone is the author of three previous books of poetry: The Velocity of Escape (2008),Patternicity (2010) and Sunday, the locusts (2011). He is the recipient of a CBC Literary Award, The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize, and Matrix Magazine’s LitPop Award. Currently he’s the Poetry Editor at Palimpsest Press, and an Associate Editor at Representative Poetry Online. He lives in Toronto.

"There is a lot to admire in Patternicity: musicality, intelligence, toughness, tensile juxtapositions of rational enquiry and lyrical tenderness."
     -Arc Poetry Magazine

"Johnstone's poems are entertaining, erotic, and dangerous, and at times brute in their clean, heart-wrenching details."
     -Mansfield Review

"Johnstone simply does not miss opportunities to drive home his music, to exploit each vowel's potential to ring and electrify its neighbours."
     -Maple Tree Literary Supplement


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