canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Salt Port and Sunsets
by T. Anders Carson
Black Bile Press, 1997

Stain (CD)
by T. Anders Carson
Self-Published, 1999

Reviewed by Michael Bryson

"Spoken Word Artist" became popularized as the job title for the public performer of poetry sometime in the early 1990s, thus creating a split between the entertainers and the serious craftspeople of the poetic arts. Or so the story goes. In reality, poetry has an ancient relationship with song, and Spoken Word Artists are not wrong to claim they are taking poetry back to its roots. At the same time, however, the decorum of the multiple forms of poetry as it has evolved through the centuries is easily lost when poets belt out their iambs through the smoky din of the neighbourhood pub on its once a month literary evening.

One case in point is Canadian poet T. Anders Carson. Now published in 16 countries, Carson must surely be one of North America's hardest working poets. He is a tireless road warrior and self-promoter, which is just about the only way you're going to get any attention as a poet in this MTV-addicted age.

Carson has recently released Stain, his first CD of spoken word pieces, a followup to his 1997 spoken word cassette Carson. "Stain" contains 26 works read by Carson, delivered in a voice that is clear, sensitive, and accessible. Listeners will connect easily with Carson as he tells his tales. They may wonder, however, how these poems would appear on the page. Carson's free verse stories flow without apparent line breaks or a rhythmic structure which might emphasize points of stress or meaning. These are poems in which Carson-as-narrator interprets the world. To put it another way, these are poems written in the tradition of the High Romantics in which the poet is a heightened observer of reality. These poems tell us about the world as muse; the simple data of life as the source of the curious or interesting.

Similar work fills Carson's chapbook Salt Pork and Sunsets, published by Black Bile Press (1997). For example, from "I'm not in Paris":

The Legion won't allow turbans
so I don't go to the Legion.
Gossip is entertainment
and the post office doubles
for a Central Station
of blessed skewed information.
You know,
it's tough to say,
but I'm kinda glad
I'm not in Paris.

There will be those who dismiss Carson as a kind of journalist. To be sure, his poems lack both the psychological and lit crit sophistication favoured by many contemporary readers of poetry. Carson's poems share the simplicity of the campfire story, but there is more to them than simply that. They are full of the common moments, struggles and hopes shared by all humanity. Carson has packaged ourselves back to us. His poems remind us of life's quiet mysteries. If most poetry has become academic and beyond the reach of most people, Carson's storytelling may serve as an antidote. They are also proof, as the title of Robert Fulford's new book suggests, of "The Triumph of Narrative."








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