canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Excessive Love Prostheses
by Margaret Christakos
Coach House Books, 2002

Reviewed by Jennifer Dales

In her latest poetry collection, Excessive Love Prostheses, Margaret Christakos explores motherhood, hetero- and bi-sexuality, the lives of oddball characters and the struggles of adult life through intense, emotionally alive verse and prose poetry, which she continually turns inside-out and upside-down by repeating fragments of poems in connection with their wholes.

By employing fragmented, mixed-up language alongside more linear and "whole" verse, Christakos creates resonance within and between her poems. Some of her poems are closely connected thematically, but at times a word or phrase will reappear much later in the book in a seemingly unrelated context, stirring up alternate meanings, and increasing their depth and emotional impact. Certain words or phrases will echo through a whole series of poems, leaving behind their initial context, and immersing the reader in a changing mosaic of language and meaning.

In the book’s first two sections, "Repetitive Strain" and "Career Paths," Christakos enters the lives and thoughts of characters, including an accountant, a street cleaner, a celebrity personal assistant and others. The poems "Celebrity Personal Assistant" and "Female Rock Star" provide an example of Christakos’ approach:

In "Celebrity Personal Assistant, we enter the life of a rock star’s aide, who remembers how her employer was stalked:

…Thank god we hired private security to step in
when the premise got messy. I saw it coming. But that is
precisely my gift and deep down she thanks me for it
every night and every morning. When she corkscrew-pinched the back of
my arm last week I just adjusted my perspective…

The next poem, "Female Rock Star" repeats much of the same language, but its arrangement suggests that this poem may be from the standpoint of the stalker:

…private security to step
in a wistful way about how I saw
it coming. But that is aging. I myself

feel so she thanks me for it not
angry but full of corkscrew-pinched the back of
spew about to erupt, like adjust my perspective.

In order to appreciate Christakos’ latest book, her readers must follow her through confusion, disparity, overload of information and bad news. While the reader may be tempted to make sense of this maze, it seems the author isn’t so sure that "making sense" of it is what her readers, or the world need. We are tuning in to a radio station broadcasting strange lyrical stories about being a lover, a woman, a rock star; the point before we actually find the station on the dial—the garble of voices—is what lets us appreciate, if never fully understand, the announcer’s words.

Jennifer Dales is a writer living in Ottawa.







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