Reviewed by Jacob McArthur Mooney
The Ontario chapbook publisher Cactus Press recently released a fresh crop of four chapbooks by a diverse and very competent quartet of new (and new-ish) poets. The books are charming in appearance, managing the tough trick of being memorable and unique in their individual design, while maintaining enough subtle hints of an in-house aesthetic to make them identifiable as a gestalt brand. The books carry plenty of spirit, but live happily as parts of a quartet. They are well-made, but still homemade. Their staples and imperfect edges hide a dignified and subtle edit. The gesture of their publication is simple and apolitical: to get good new writing out into the world. And the writing is good. Each of the four has something to hide, something to declare, and something new for their readers.
Instructions for Pen and Ink by Edward Nixon
This short collection by Toronto poet and community-thinker Edward Nixon is a book of workmanlike simplicity, and a certain philosophical sincerity that often invites an under-reading. That would be unfortunate, here. Nixon’s default tone, a sort of wistful, half-embarrassed lyrical mumbling, takes a moment to grow on you but is worth the effort. He doesn’t necessarily help himself by attempting to wrestle out of it early in the collection (the jokey, undeveloped “A Painting Black on Black” is the chap’s weakest link), but once he finds his best note, he holds it. The first couple lines of “A Resistance” get to the root of his concerns: “He says he’s not worthy / of the telling.” Those two lines contain the troubled working-class masculinity of Instructions for Pen and Ink‘s best moments, and wrap it in the false-front of a second person narrative. The “He” there is the author, of course. And the instructions of the title poem’s pedagogical conceit are there for that same “He”‘s benefit. There’s a voyeuristic charm to being a reader of this book, and not in the way that most lyricists invite voyeurism. It’s exciting to watch Edward Nixon struggle to write Edward Nixon poems. That he can invite you into this intimacy with enough musicality and verve (as when “We Didn’t Know” begins “Polaroid 67 / Merc 66 fuel burn conspicuous / so delicious, fast on 15”) to make your time worthwhile, is what makes the collection a success, in the end.