canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Last Six Minutes of Elvis
by Kirk Miles
Touchwood Press, 2001 

Reviewed by Richard Stevenson

John and Cecilia Frey of Touchwood Press have now released their second title, a full-length collection by Calgary poet, playwright, professional clown, and sometime actor/ performance artist Kirk Miles.

Mr. Miles will be familiar to many readers and listeners for his work in the theatre and his clowning at various fringe and children’s festivals. He has worked over a broad spectrum, from writing a commissioned adaptation of The Little Prince for the Calgary Boys Choir to producing the poetry show Wildlife and Firearms with Sheri-D Wilson and Tania Sablatash for One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo. His performance piece Juggler On a Drum (reproduced here in a shorter version) was also produced as a play from 1983 to 1985 by One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre and subsequently broadcast on CBC Alberta Anthology in 1986 and 1987. “Welcome To The Rodeo,” the other long poem/performance piece reproduced here, was also broadcast in 1983 and 84, and fugitive editions and cassettes of his work have appeared and disappeared over the years.

It’s wonderful to finally have a full-length collection of Kirk Miles’ poetry, for it’s been some time in coming – cause enough for celebration – and because it is a handsome well-designed edition, and solid first book that announces the arrival of a major talent.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Miles perform his poems, as I had occasion to just last week in Lethbridge, can certainly attest to the wit, humour, and panache of the man’s unique voice, but even better is the news that the poems survive the transition to the page.

There are echoes of other poets, of course – I detect nods to Robert Priest, Robert Zend, John Robert Columbo, the dadaists, Antipoemas by Nicannor Parra and, perhaps, Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortazar, some of the more playful French Surrealists; similarities to the work of Robert Sward, and David Trinidad, but whether he’s read these poets or not, whether it’s just my imagination making connections or not, scarcely matters, for the uses to which Mr. Miles puts his madcap, zany imagination, and the way he melds pop culture influences, kitsch, hi-, and low-brow elements, are entirely his own and a sheer delight.

Witness these lines, from “A Middle-Aged Homo Sapiens Male Requests Assistance From An Older Female Alien of Unknown Origin,” (p. 89):

Look! Look! Look!
Tatyana don’t be shy,
this is earth.
Our history is several
painstakingly placed white pyramids
of bleached skull and bone
and sometimes stone.

Or these from “Breakfast With Godzilla’s Complaint and Klaus Barbie’s Lament” ( page 78 ):


had the large mammals with herbs
served on a Lincoln Continental.

“No Fay Wray on the side,” G
hisses and growls.

 Evidence of lots of clowning around, to be sure, but it is the places these crazy, recycled images from comic books and B movies get to that impress the most, the way the droll delivery and leaps of logic and metaphor force us to re-examine the detritus of pop culture; the way he juxtaposes an unlikely image with a horrific historical reference or allusion to western philosophy that add the extra torque that make these delightful fantasias serious poems. He reminds me of the Picasso of bicycle seat and handlebar bulls. Sees things from unique angles. Redeems the flotsam and jetsam of a castoff culture. And make no mistake, Mr. Miles delivers more than surreal obliquity and a hardy har har; he is also a master of understatement and self-effacing wit and does Realism justice, albeit in a minimalist mode:


Not scrape-the-open-vein
grit and sorrow human art.

But Art Patterson and his wife Marg. ( page 93 )

His range is wide as well. Here you will find satires, absurd fables, elegies, odes, even prayers – though of a decidedly non-sectarian, humanist stamp. He can be as jazzy as the best expressionist, running on high octane sound and syllable ( “There Is Jazz in My Watch” ) droll and clever, delivering parallel punch lines like a standup comedian ( “Thank You Jesus” ) or lyric and poignant, spinning a metaphor off a cartoon cliché:

The causes of falling off a tree
are the saw and the arm that moves it.
Sitting on the limb silently watching
the rest of the forest turn brown.

(“The Causes of Falling,” p. 35 )

Essentially a comic poet with an excellent sense of timing, Kirk Miles invites the reader back for a second take. Perhaps it’s best to give him the last word, for it is his love of play and language that explain his method and his madness best:

I want to be an elf or dwarf
or at the very least an old hobbit.

Not just a bad bald boy person
sitting through intermission.

(“ A Middle-Aged Homo Sapiens Male… .” p.90 )

An auspicious debut then – for a seasoned poet and the-new-kid-on-the-block press.

Richard Stevenson lives and teaches in Lethbridge, Alberta. His most recent publications are Live Evil: A Homage To Miles Davis ( Thistledown Press, 2000 ) and Hot Flashes: Maiduguri Haiku, Senryu, and Tanka ( Ekstasis Editions, 2001 ). He occasionally performs with the poetry/sound troupes Naked Ear and Sasquatch.







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