canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Man & Beast

By Eric Cole
Insomniac Press, 2005

Reviewed by Nathaniel G. Moore

In the most recent issue of Matrix Magazine, managing editor Jon Paul Fiorentino had an incredibly poignant rant or platform that some Canadian poets are making "exaggerated claims against university-educated and popular culture-engaged poets. Apparently the influence of literary theory and popular culture has steered too many young pets away from the church of the pastoral." 

He goes on with much brilliance basically convinces the country of his point without much effort. Really itís a great piece of writing. Personally and professionally I love this argument, and the fact that Fiorentino is so passionate about this argument and provides clear examples of past pop-culture junky poets like Ginsberg is assuring. Iím not exactly sure if Iím anti-pop culture, I highly doubt that I am. But I love a good fight, especially against such a fan-favourite. 

"Ultimately," writes Fiorentino. "the argument is not about form or tradition; itís about subject matter. And with the subject matter these disenfranchised young poets are positing, they are doing what poets tend to do best: not sell books." But weíll see if Fiorentinoís theory that those who write about nature arenít going to sell poetry books. Of course, my attitude is no one is really selling poetry books, itís all Soduko, but thatís another bag of pills all together. 

So, dear loyal Danforth Review Water Buffalo members, Iím going to review a book that I think has zero popular culture references. Unless you count a shark as a pop culture reference because of that 1975 film that Jewish filmmaker made.

* * *

Perhaps man and beast seems like an obvious title, and countless artistic endeavours, literary, visual and cinematically have taken human and animalistic qualities and mixed it up so to speak. However, in this thin and concise volume of poetry, for what it is, which is, a book of poems dealing with linguistic adaptations and musings on animals and humansóthe context provides a simple and thorough use of animal as both subject, muse, dream, projection, dissection, emotional convoy. 

Put simply, in these pages is a challenging and imagery-laden attempt to reveal the inner human or inner animal that dominates our mental landscape. Eric Cole has gnawed long and hard at these poems to elevate the readerís senses and explore the animal kingdomís primal fixations while taming the human spirit. All this leaves the reader hunting for exotic animal encyclopaedias, reconsidering their own natural instincts, and licking their wounds in empathy.

But its not all animal in the fury sense. The beast side comes through in "Yobi" where the poet confronts his rage issues. "I did it because the babyís yelling worsened." With unsentimental meanness, we see the dark and unthinking beast at his worse, "cold as any emperor, lavished you with justice."

"Tuna" is unfortunately slow and uneventful. Even the use of "ghost nets" does little to offer any new insight into the mighty fish. "Octopus" has goggled teens, and some other clever oceanic ooze. "Snapping Turtle" is a bit of a warped drive-by animal cruelty campaign with some comedic granny crossbow action. "A granny could put her knitting needles aside, take up a cross-bow and shoot one through the heart."

Whether itís the slow and vulnerable image I experienced while reading about the sick pigeon his wife had dreamt she was in the poem "The Apple-Namer" or the otters lapping for blood in "Cuchulain Dies" Coleís work is ready-made to read aloud with a thud of primal affirmation. There is nothing wishy-washy washing up on the shores for the reader, no po-mo fluff. Well edited, paced and timed, these are mini-marathons of quaint and sometimes violent pictorial beauty. And oh how it would have been ruined with sketches of animals.

Nathaniel G. Moore is a wild bowling party.







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