Saturday, October 17, 2015

Endangered Hydrocarbons - Lesley Battler (Book Thug)

Today's book of poetry:
Endangered Hydrocarbons.  Lesley Battler.  Book Thug.  Toronto.  2015.

Lesley Battler's absolutely incendiary Endangered Hydrocarbons continues Toronto's Book Thug's tradition of publishing the most cutting edge poetry in the country.  This tome weighs in at 175 pages and it is one hell of a dirty dance.  These poems are a scathing indictment of the policies, systems and practices that surround petrochemical production and usage.

Battler isn't just making up stuff, this is Joyce Cary Horse's Mouth stuff of the highest order.  As Gulley Jimson said:
“Nothing like poetry when you lie awake at night. It keeps the old brain limber. It washes away the mud and sand that keeps on blocking up the bends.Like waves to make the pebbles dance on my old floors. And turn them into rubies and jacinths; or at any rate, good imitations.”
Joyce Cary, The Horse's Mouth

These poems are collages made out of the misdirection and technospeak from the industry itself. Battler explains the text with this statement:

"All of the poems in this project are derived from texts generated in a multinational oil company. I spliced items such as wellbooks, mudlogs, geological prognoses, and meeting notes with a variety of found material, including histories and critical theoretical works, as well as travel, real estate, and home decor magazines - basically anything that crossed my path."

The following poem is an excerpt from the longer poem Pax McMurray.

the Edson wars 

for centuries
Edson's conventional well culture
had bullied the intellectuals
at Fort Mac

of course
this meant war

they were outnumbered
the Murrians pioneered

burned coke
with quick & dirty electricity
met intensity targets

entire work camps
by horse-drawn chariot

routing the Edsonites
who continued utilizing
slaves, suffering
endless LTIs

at the same time,
commodity prices

stymied by diminishing
sweet gas returns, Edson
surrendered to the

who released one
of the most important
documents in history
Pax McMurray 1964

the Pax relied
on bulk modules
a surplus of joules
& Alcogel 1 to fuel
the imperial army

upholding the victors'
moral claim to the Regional
Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Syncrude imposed a
provisional government
wrote off the decline rate
cut supply to debt-ridden

the gentle colony
of bitumen worshippers
became a modern client-based
project team


Because Today's book of poetry is an old fart and getting older our selection of works from Endangered Hydrocarbons does not include any of the more adventurous and experimental of Battler's texts.  But I am here to tell you that you can be sure she is brilliantly convincing at every turn.

It's not just that Battler is turning OILWORLD upside down and sideways -- these are poems written by an effervescent neologism, a master of neolexia.  If you don't believe me just ask William Gibson. Battler invents language we somehow already know.  There is much marvelous fun buried at every turn in this new encyclopedic examination of the absurd, it is enthralling.


Martin Luther and the birth of
Individual Reservoir Pressure

hollowed in autumn shadow
Luther pursues the hermeneutics
of pneumatic drills
              i lost hold of the Methane
              made of Him, Stockmaster
              and Hangman over my
              poor Soul

the young monk sobs over the antics
of apostolics at critical point on
the risk matrix
              pontiffs siphon pipelines
              fill their empty mitres

              nuns run wireline
              down saline caverns

              archbishops cache gas
              in lavish Vaticans

              mud-filtrate desecrates
the Holy Writ

haunted by hydraulic pumps
caught in faulty logic, he
promises to rid the world of
Cathodic corruption
              salvation is a gift of God's grace
              music of the chemical
              Eucharist is received
              by tests alone

personal revelation

on the very day condensate gas
goes retrograde, God reveals
His Five-Year Plan
              the Reservoir Fluid
              Composition of Tool
              1200 is tabulated
              on Pages 6 & 7

early temperature
vs. pressure plots

Luther burns the bull allowing nuncios
to sell Unleaded at Stations of the Cross

writes 600 million cubic feet a day
a personal best
              but i know You
              can pressure even
              the most heinous
              eicosane into a
              only You
              my God

              we can not exist
              in two phases


              heavy oil or
              natural gas


Luther edits his viscosity
deposits the excess slurry
of his vocabulary

deviates from vertical wells
drilled by the Colloquy

dares test Ethyl Lead
declares it Unready

insists on the physical
wettability of the Holy Spirit

              one must open
              the perforation tunnel
              in his heart to bathe
              in Radial Flow


flushed with success from first-run tests
Luther emulsifies 95 theses from his treatise
              the Compositional Analysis and Transfer
              of Bottomhole Samples

              civil authority
              can enact no law
              against the Diacel
              of the Christ who
              liquefied for our sin


Books like Endangered Hydrocarbons are rare as hen's teeth, poetry books like Endangered Hydrocarbons are once in a lifetime explorations of where flame meets fuel and our collective responsibility for lighting the match.

Battler isn't just being a well-informed reporter, she's turning a world upside down by being an enemy submarine in their lexicon ocean of oil.

There is much to entertain and enthrall in Battler's opus, but sit somewhere safe when you read it, Battler is going to be fracking with your head.  She is sending out information stylishly dazzled into poetry, it is under pressure and it is going to go in deep.  You won't be the same afterwards.  From now on you will aftertaste kerosene.


at 25 barrels per capita
(60 barrels Alberta)
Canadians are the world's
heaviest dream users

my subconscious contains
a semantic core encased
in mundane sand, sulphur
salt water

heat, pressure, decay
eventually compress
past and present into
a tarry ooze

early oneirologists ran
small diameter pipes
through my limbic

flared off random
thought mutations
until my amygdala
blew out on Seepage

for weeks, phantasms
and psychoses clogged
the Old Man River
terrorizing Lethbridge

finally in '55 the great
Conrad Schlumberger
analyzed a lump of my
reverie and just knew

could increase dream
production 60%

Imperial Oil approved
gravimetric testing on
my hippocampus

cholinergic ponto-genicul-
occipital waves stimulated
my cortical structures

technicians injected
nitroglycerine into my
parietal lobe

shot-point vibrations
released dissociated
imagination from
sensory traps

REM converters allowed
thousands of metres of
uncaptured by-products
to push up the standpipe

rendering a whole new
source of my dreams
(whimsy, hypnagogia)
safe for your factory
your car, your furnace


This book is an indictment.  A stunning first book.  Lesley Battler has our full attention.

Lesley Battler

Born in Barrie, Ontario, Lesley Battler’s work has been published in Alberta Views, Arc, Contemporary Verse 2, dandelion, filling Station, Matrix, Other Voices, PRISM international, and west coast line. She won the PRISM international Earle Birney Award (2012), and the University of Calgary Poem of the Season Award (2009) for a poem that became part of Endangered Hydrocarbons. Battler received an MA in English from Concordia University, and currently lives in Calgary, where until recently she worked in the petrochemical industry.

“Electric and unexpected … Lesley Battler’s ‘Idylls of Inuvik’ [is] a zinger of a poem that uses the internal, molecular energy of words to enact a merciless takedown of the still-colonial attitudes at play in the economics of Canada’s North.” 
     — Anita Lahey, Arc Poetry Magazine

“Lesley Battler’s cut-up work will continue to remind me that it will always be easier to remove overburden than it will be to clear-cut a small forest. Her work brings us the spectacle of the wars of rhetoric – with their victors and victims of ideology, hijacking knowledge and power with approved terms of vocabulary.” 
     — Paul Zits, filling Station

Lesley Battler
Reading from Endangered Hydrocarbons at the 2015 BookThug Spring Launch
video: Jay MillAr

Endangered Hydrocarbons is a 49th Shelf Most Anticipated Spring 2015 Poetry Selection


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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