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Frontenac House - March 11, 2007 - 250 Comments

bulletin from the low light

bulletin from the low light by j. fisher

Reviewed by Liam Ford

j. fisher’s bulletin from the low light is “Frontenac’s first blog book from fisher’s popular blog of the same name” (jfisher.frontenachouse.com).  I’d read some fisher before, and enjoyed his distinctive voice — a wordy Bukowski on his first whisky drunk.  I liked his political incorrectness and his brash, confident, drunken word-swagger.  I liked his alliterative, rapid-fire pseudo-slam poetics.  I liked how he seemed to not really give a fuck, and how he wrote about drinking like his death depended on it.

Then I read “you ain’t never gonna amount to nothing”:

it was just too easy
lazing around, moaning
sucking on titties
and kittens
beer cans
waiting
dreaming of my suffering turning to gold
i wanted fame
respect, acknowledgement
for being clever
however
i didn’t want to do anything for it
so there i was
lying around,
sucking, slurping
vessels and orifices
making love to the furniture
to alien strangers
fondling the remote
so sorry a sight
so woeful
so lazy
another vagrant waste
amongst the wasted generation
who knew
these would be
the perfect ingredients
for poetry?
(95)

I immediately thought of a quotation from Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse”:  “If he [man] sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself…”

Now I didn’t pretend then and I don’t pretend now to understand what half of his essay was about, but now I think I have an idea of what Olson was trying to say with that line.  If a writer is driven to poetry by the desire of “acknowledgement / for being clever” then each poem he writes will undoubtedly race towards this destination.

There’s no denying that this volume is packed with cleverness.  Imagining a situation where

you’re on a blind double-date
and you’re pretty sure
you’ve slept with all
the women at the table
(including the waitress)
(“charmer” 34)

is pretty clever.  The rhythm, rhyme and alliteration of

drunken neighbours clearing the dishes in large
crashes
pummeled women hide the purple
bruises with cake-baked matte
(“dancing on the horse’s lashes” 28)

and

dull the cock on
razor-sharp hips
dull the pain, downing
quadruple brandied candied cocktails
(“cuts you up” 38)

are pretty clever.  But here are the cleverest lines of all:

  i give respect and will accept
nothing less in return so if you're the typical
pseudo-academic ass-mouth sworn to defend form,
…………………………………………………..
……………………………………………… don't
—you'll never know how ignorant you came off at
the exact moment you thought you were being so
precious and clever.

(“in case the title doesn’t match the text…” 33)

Here, the author predicts and pre-empts criticism.  I guess, having quoted Olson, I qualify as a “pseudo-academic ass-mouth,” and although I’ve never “sworn to defend form,” I do believe bulletin from the low light would not suffer from the addition of a period or two.  My critical concern is not with form, however, but rather its constant companion, content.  (Moreover, I haven’t been there, but I don’t think fisher is the sole resident of Clevertown.)

This poetry is devoted to the alcoholics, the street people, the junkies, the prostitutes, “the wasted generation” amongst whom the author considers himself “another vagrant waste.”  What is this “wasted generation?”  Haven’t I seen these players before?  Of course.

Here we have everything Jack Kerouac’s beat generation was charged with representing all over again: substance abuse (“the pugilist”, “no nonsense”, “distance”, “confessions”, “the smoke-hole of nowhere”, “smashed”, “100 bottles of hope”, “one cigarette”, “Achilles’ heel”, “it hit so hard”, “shrapnel”, “under siege in the Garden City”), indolence (“pluck me from the plot”, “wet dog”, “soft lumber”, “fink”) and sexual perversion (“Malahat crush”, “automatic yellow”, “cum-drunk and lusting after tragedy”, “wounds too big”).  It’s like fisher tuned into a classic radio station and remixed the tunes as his own.

Nevertheless, there’s something ingratiating and insolently appealing about bulletin from the low light.  fisher, no fool, writes himself into the tradition of the self-destructive, self-obsessed artist as in “foxglove is a yellow lie,” where he name-drops “brother Vincent [Van Gogh]” (11).  His poems (especially “soft lumber”) rail against “the myth / about the grass over any fence / other than your own” (74) being greener, and articulate a cultural discontent felt by many.  Unfortunately, the attempted escape through alcohol and drugs, which is the subject of many of the volume’s poems, offers no sense of salvation.  Overindulgence leads to the inevitable, remorseful hangover, and the language of desperation, paranoid delusion, death and suicide offers little hope.  bulletin from the low light shines a lurid light on a world where God only shows his face as a guy in a “big black 7-series” named “Il Duce,” who “emerges from the car / with a big bag of goodies / … / which he hands over / to those tobacco golden fingers” (“alms,” 82) of a bum named Butch.

It ain’t pretty, but it’s clever, and it’s compelling.

Liam Ford lives in Coquitlam, BC.

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