A beautifully produced collection, bill bissett’s northern wild roses/deth interrupts th dansing contains 160 pages of visual, sound, and lyric poetry, and it constitutes the most recent instalment from this prolific artist.
bissett is well-known for his unconventional phonetic spellings and punctuation evasion, and in this collection his technique makes for some interesting rhythms. Because the reader is largely unfamiliar with bissett’s spellings, which are not always consistent for the same word, he or she is forced to slow down the reading process. This creates a stop-and-go rhythm, which in some ways recalls Buddhist or Native American chant. When read aloud, some of the poems, such as “we dansd sew goldn,” create an incantatory effect that is quite enjoyable. This effect is often most pronounced in the longer poems, like “reinkarnaysun urgensee hello,” in which the denotations of the words are largely subordinate to the richness of sound.
Overall, this collection is affirmative. Though bissett is working out his own theory of mortality and the meaning of life, he never allows himself to fall into self-pity or bitterness. He creates a loose mythology by blending various Buddhist, Shamanistic and poetic elements and never lets the jargon of any of these bog down his poems. Many of the most potent and memorable pieces in the collection propose a simple vitality as the way to create meaning in human life. For instance, the poem “dansing can stall deth,” as the title suggests, delights in images of dancing, and the lines’ rhythms echo their content:
in the moon rooms snow n blizzard winds howling
out ther dansing interrupts deth yes the beet keeps
on rockin hands keep on klapping yr bodee feels
all th work wev askd it 2 dew releeses its joy its
ardour not dour fidduls cats in th moon howling
moord dansing in infinit erth rooms
(“dansing can stall deth” 10)
bissett’s message is that we need to give up our pretensions of control over ourselves and others, that only by allowing ourselves to be swept up by the rhythm of life can we be truly happy.
As might be expected, however, this hippie-esque message sometimes crosses the line into the maudlin. In some poems—often ones that are fantastic except for one or two lines—bissett couches his loving message in too plain or clichéd terms. Poems like “sumtimes th feeling” contain unfortunate lines like “dew yu want 2 / hold my heart / in yrs 4 a whil” (15). Again, in his piece “th kalendar is turning,” bissett is too direct in writing “we our speces dew all thees cruel cut throat / things th angels ar crying agen” (70). At times, bissett is also too direct in writing out his messages about political justice. Such poems as “war sucks” have worthwhile content, but not the sophisticated delivery that today’s reader demands.
These few lapses, however, are the result of too much honesty (if that is even possible). bissett as a poet is remarkably unpretentious; he does insert the odd polysyllabic word and makes the odd topical allusion to contemporary science, but he always integrates these elements in a way that makes their significance clear through context.
northern wild roses/deth interrupts th dansing is an enjoyable collection, and unlike the drab and self-absorbed poetry so prevalent today, it actually affirms the value of life while not ignoring the perils therein.