Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines - Jason Heroux (A Stuart Ross Book/Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines.  Jason Heroux.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

Today's book of poetry might just as well say it and get it out of the way.  Jason Heroux has become one of our favourite poets.  It's not like we didn't warn you.  

Back in September of 2013 Today's book of poetry took a look at Jason Heroux's chapbook In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn (Puddles of Sky Press, 2013) and thought it was brilliant stuff and ripe with promise.  You can see that blog here:

Since then we've read Emergency Hallelujah (Mansfield Press, 2008) and had it scheduled for a blog, the only reason you're not reading about that now is that Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines came through the door and we simply couldn't resist.

Heroux's latest volume of poetry is a seriously strong statement of intent.  Heroux has discovered a shady planet of surreal shadows where he writes from some dark corner to illuminate everything we know. And boy, oh boy!, does he hammer out some choice humour along the way.

Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines

It's easy to breathe if you're breathing
breathe all you want the air is too cold
             and weak to run away
your life is a gift with your name on it
a word there's no word for
breathe all you want it's easy to breathe
             if you're breathing
the air is an all-you-can-breathe buffet
it's hard work cheering up sad machines
hard work cleaning a number's cage
our heartbeats are staggered staples
             holding us together
birds sing like kettles boiling song-water
your life is a gift with your name on it
and your life is a word there's no word for
breath all you want breathe all you want


Today's book of poetry could be easily convinced that the poet Jason Heroux is channelling the spirit and voice of the great American novelist, short story writer and cultural guru Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Heroux has a similarly morbid comic stranglehold on reality.

The dilemma for Today's book of poetry is that when it came to picking actual poems for today's blog I was stumped.  Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines is so ripe with lovely fruit that picking which little piece of wonder to share was beyond me so we resorted to the Odin resolution.  Whenever we are blocked we write down the page numbers of every poem we wish to consider, post them on a wall and then have Odin throw darts.  The poems we are using today were the first three he hit out of the dozens on offer.

Heroux's epigraph at the beginning of Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines is from the French author and anarchist Pierre Antin-Grenier (1947-2014).  Antin-Grenier was experimental and a loosely connected member of the "extrême contemporain" - a notion in continuous movement.

          It's in the hollow of the
          ordinary that the marvelous
          most often makes its nest
                                       -- Pierre Autin-Grenier

Today's book of poetry is convinced Heroux has lived up to the challenge; Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines rolls over the mundane and ordinary to punch out marvelous poetry from every unknowable landscape he encounters.


Our yield is now, this moment
is what will eventually
become of us, our only harvest
is the one we're gathering.
Water is drawn by the one
with the well. Whoever has lungs
will breathe in and out. The one
with the horse will ride into town.
Everything is nothing but horns
honking at death, and numbers
attacking numbers, apricot
jam stuck on the table knife.
Everything is nothing but almonds
divided by almonds, and grass blades
savouring our shadow's champagne,
a car without wheels crawling through mud.
Why does everyone seek refuge elsewhere?
Whoever has the orange will peel the skin.
Whoever has a thread will feed the needle.
The one with enough footsteps will walk to the store.
Our only harvest is the one we're gathering, this moment
is what will eventually become of us, our yield is now.


The first part of Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines is made up of shorter, one or two page poems.  Later on in the collection Heroux spreads out a little and writes some longer poems and poem sequences.  This all works.

Our morning read was a Heroux buffet.  We read from Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines of course, but we also opened up Emergency Hallelujah and In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn. Milo, our head tech, led the charge this morning which should leave him in a good mood.  His new task is to now track down and procure the other thirteen titles Heroux has listed.

Today's book of poetry is certain that in the years ahead having Jason Heroux on your shelf will help to prove your smarts.

Blue Yodel of the Broken

What more do I want how many
more feathers would make me happy
on a bird how much extra egg yolk
do I need in an eggshell.
Our death chirps like a cricket
in the quietest corner of the dollar.
Bees are kept where two bones meet
a body develops in the body
where fruit trees are grown
the cows are kept
in the same name as the place
where the hay is kept.
Our death jumps into us the way
the moon leaps into a lake to cool off
swimming in the water that isn't there.
What more of a handshake
can you hold in your hand
how much of this fork
do you need to eat dinner.
The blown-out candle
is kept where the wish is kept.
How much more walnut meat
in the walnut shell would it take
to make us feel safe in the world.
I believe in the barbecue cover
that covers the barbecue I believe
in the same name as the place
where the bird is kept
the cage is kept.
How much more
piggy bank can
the piggy bank hold.
Wherever you are
you are a little rain
that never rained you are
a little hurt that never hurt anything.
Sometimes in the bank I touch
someone else's money and wake up


If you read Today's book of poetry more than once you'll realize I am praising a new book of poetry almost every other day.  I fear it could all just begin to sound like rain.  But the truth is that for every book of poetry Today's book of poetry posts there are three or four that don't make it.  I DO like every book that makes it onto the blog.  If the blog sometimes lacks a completely fresh veneer or the vocabulary to do these books justice it is entirely on Today's book of poetry.

Books like Jason Heroux's Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines are the reason this blog exists, I try to serve up gems every time out but this one is a highly polished jewel.

Jason Heroux

Jason Heroux is the author of three previous books of poetry—Memoirs of an Alias, Emergency Hallelujah, and Natural Capital, which was shortlisted for the 2013 ReLit award—and two novels. His work has been published widely in chapbook form and in journals, and has been translated into several languages. Jason lives in Kingston, Ontario.

“Jason Heroux continues to develop his bold style through the delightful fusion of otherwise jarring images.”
     —Jonathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press
Natural Capital is a helluva good read. I inhaled its 47 poems in one long breath—they left me excited and wondering exactly what it is that makes them so captivating.… Great book. I’d give it several major prizes all at once.”
     —Rod Pederson,  Arc
“Jason Heroux’s skill as an image-maker recalls Tomas Tranströmer.… In an ideal world, Heroux’s poems would be doled out monthly, one at a time. They would be slotted into the mailbox, or handed to us by some peculiar stranger on the sidewalk.”
     —Nick Thran,  Event
“At its heart, Heroux’s gift—however existential or surreally humanistic—lies in the transformation of ways of seeing the world, of analyzing it and of language. The poems themselves, in their unique ways of seeing, are humbling at the same time they are refreshing.”
     —Cynthia Reeser, Prick of the Spindle

Jason Heroux
Video:  Jason Heroux



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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