Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands - Dean Steadman (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands. Dean Steadman.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2016.

Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands by Dean Steadman is one musical interlude you do not want to miss.

Nouvelles Pièces froides


[Ouvrez la tête]
Every year on her birthday she captured a rush of wind in a jar and labelled
the jar with the date. It was a birthday tradition she had begun as a child,
a precocious three-year-old, intrigued by the idea that something invisible
could be heard and deeply felt. Shelved neatly in chronological order,
the jars now numbered seventy-five and, as her birthday was in late December,
it was certain that if the winds were ever released, they would blow strong and
polar cold. Each jar displayed a fall of snow, some nearing blizzard conditions,
individual flakes suspended in mid-air, their crystalline structures unmatchable
in radiance. One jar, by far her favourite, contained a honeybee, a victim
of miscalculation having awakened prematurely from its winter sleep.
Its silvery wings were frozen in motion, inseparable from the glitter, while,
stark against the blustery pale, its black and yellow stripes buzzed electric.


Now wasn't that something beautiful and surprising.  Steadman hands out a steady supply of just that sort of thing even though there is a central conceit to Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands that spirals around Erik Satie and the dada contrails of his period.  

Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands is divided up into several sections that each start with a poem where the title is taken from a composition of Satie's.  There are also notations in the style of Satie that accompany many of the poems.  So, I guess the more you know about and understand Erik Satie the harder these poems will hit.  But Today's book of poetry wants to give credit where it is due and we believe that Steadman doesn't leave anyone behind.  Today's book of poetry is really only familiar with "Gymnopedie" by Satie.  It's not an impediment because Steadman serves up, within his own self imposed framework, an astonishing variety of curious narratives full of surreal imagery and fantastic possibility.

In these narratives there are morality tales, love stories and much hope.  There is also a menu of waltzing ducks, menacing lions and tigers in the shadows and even birds coming forth from the opened mouths of opera singers and so on.  Steadman has rendered it all into plausible narrative for fools like me.

Trois Gnossiennes


[Avec conviction et avec une tristesse rigouresuse]
The night I performed as a maiden in the crane dance outside the entrance
to the cypress maze at the Grand Duke's Chateau Knossos, I fell in love
with a beast of a man, bullish and brutal, who could love me only physically,
a limitation not without its pleasures and one I welcomed until the day,
while rehearsing a sarabande, I became entranced by my reflection
in the mirrored walls of the studio and realized for the first time that I liked
who I was seeing, her long legs, slender torso, and regal neck, the fact that,
even flightless, she had the grace of an egret or sacred ibis and the ability
to slip through the cypress needles to solve the mystery of the labyrinth and slay
the Minotaur without weakening at the shocked look of betrayal in his eyes,
though never forgetting how he once spilled himself onto my body.


Dean Steadman seems to do this with ease and consistency, he writes poems that are self contained and self explanatory.  The reader is immediately aware of and accepting of Steadman logic.  And why not, these poems sparkle with wit, charm and a dark sense of humour.

We put Erik Satie on the box this morning while we had our morning read.  Odin had never heard Satie before and sat in the corner all contemplative and full of quiet wonder.  The rest of us took our turns reading Steadman aloud, one poem after the other.

Dans lequel les Pères de la très vraie et Très Sainte Église sont invoqués

[Devenez pâle]
A man in a navy blue suit and black wingtip shoes exchanges
pleasantries with an attractive bank teller. He withdraws a large sum
of money and places it in a leather portmanteau. He then enters
the bank manager's office, as if by appointment, and shoots him dead.
A silencer is used to muffle the shot and he leaves the bank unnoticed
by the security guards. No one but a woman, lightly scented with
the stamen powder of cactus flowers, witnesses the crime.
She is an accomplice in spirit, at one with widows and lepers,
and does not raise an alarm. The shooter deposits the gun in a briefcase
he finds on a window ledge outside the bank. He hails a cab and gets
into the back seat. The scented woman from the bank slides in beside
him. He does not know her but contains his surprise by focusing
on her beauty and a small scar on her upper lip. In time, you could
begin to love me, she whispers, her mouth close to his. "Could"?
he asks, his lips brushing hers as he forms his words, You're not sure?
Her eyes narrow, study the depth of his. Everything is only possibility,
she replies. And with love there are multiplicities that extend to infinities,
numbers that would make a money-changer weep. He likes the way
she thinks. That suits me just fine, he says. It so happens I have
possibilities to kill. She laughs, the tiny white fold of scar disappearing
in the full flush of smile.


Today's book of poetry had Milo go into the stacks and come back with Dean Steadman's Worm's Saving Day (AngelHousePress, 2015) so that we could take a look at what else Steadman had gotten up to.  There's no doubt about it, Steadman is one interesting and clever cat.

Musical skull-duggery, dada wish list thuggery, Today's book of poetry is convinced that Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands is worth every second of your time.

Dean Steadman

Dean Steadman’s work has been widely published in Canadian journals and e-zines, as well as in the anthology Pith and Wry: Canadian Poetry (Scrivener Press, 2010). He is the author of two chapbooks: Portrait w/tulips (Leaf Editions, 2013), and Worm’s Saving Day (AngelHousePress, 2015). He was a finalist in the 2011 Ottawa Book Awards for his poetry collection, their blue drowning (Frog Hollow Press, 2010). Though he was born in Montreal and studied in Halifax, he has lived in Ottawa for most of his life.

“When he died, Erik Satie left twelve grey suits hanging in his closet. With surreal virtuosity Dean Steadman has pulled eighty-four sinuous poems and prose riffs out of their velvet pockets.”
     —William Aide

“Shifting geography and perspective as easily as form, [these] poems beguile the senses as deftly as a menagerie of circus contortionists.” 
     —Sandra Ridley

Tree Reading Series Poetics Talk 
12 Nov 09 - 
Dean Steadman on Poetry and Meaning
Video: Tree Reading Series




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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