canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

False Maps for Other Creatures
by Jay MillAr
Nightwood Editions, 2005

Reviewed by Kemeny Babineau

*A MillAREview*

See TDR's interview with Jay MillAr

Jay Millar is young enough to be involved in the various poetics of youth with a certain direction yet unchosen but he’s old enough to be already laying it down. And I’d be willing to wager a one acre wood lot to a square mile of Toronto’s downtown asphalt that the voice of False Maps for Other Creatures will be the one that draws him out in the end. The poems in this book are undeniably fruitious and wild. They embody language as a growing, sensate thing. Each line quivers like an open ended nerve, and every line begins as if thought has just begun. In the end we begin all over. These poems are process and observation compressed into the moment before expansion. This is the mind cracked open to reveal an anthill of words.

Jesse Huisken’s illustrations, on the cover and inside, are a fine compliment to the work therein. Ranging as they do from the realistic to the abstract they also conjure up specimen sketches from a biologists field notes, and Millar himself has conducted research into the forest dwelling white-footed mouse. These visuals then are like tiny nests for Millar’s poem creatures. Viewed individually Huisken’s tiny pencil drawings on the cover appear quizzically incomplete but when seen as a set these strange emissaries of mind belong not only to one another but to the earth riddled poems inside as well.

What I like most about Millar’s poetry in general and False Maps for Other Creatures in particular is how it deals with time. Naturally, this is of the essence. Time is not a construct to be written upon or voiced over, but a moving feral intelligence, self-immolating, immortal, simultaneous, deadly, and gifting. This is the poetry of the plenipotential where in secret witness we experience inscrutable otherness. Millar’s poetry purely states that this is a participatory universe, and within that language is complicit.

Witness these lines:

The trees
through this mind
escape, are cut down,
only if we imagine
where we are was
never a woodland.

(False Maps… p 85)
or these:

is it evident
we make ourselves
how you speak

(False Maps… p 15-16)

The little bit of literary history ensconced at the back of the book shows that Millar is concerned with poetic tradition. And this tradition is the breaking with tradition, but unlike other so-called avant-gardists there is no attempted patricide. Rooted in the insurrection of bissett these poems careen towards the shamanistic and the mythic. Couple this influence with the semantic wander rings thru time that characterize the poetry of Gerry Gilbert and you have the makings of a finely fired poet: one aware of the essence of time, it is is it.

A quick scan back through Millar’s own brief literary history reveals this line from the poem ‘Thought King’ which appears as in the hand made 1996 chapbook Wrapping Paper (Boondoggle Books). “I’m thinking about how one line can have nothing to do with next line\ and yet they do.” Evidently Millar has known all along, between head fakes, where his poetry was going. From the same text we have this: “I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m writing about\ it usually takes me a while to figure that out.” so this is the process, the path to epiphany is muddle through, moment by moment will get you there, and back, but wait a minute… some thing was missed, wha… That I can so easily venture into Millar’s early poetry and pull out quotes supportive of a later more significant text is a sure sign of a significant poet in the making.

Wondering which direction Millar will go in next I await his next book feeling certain that his best work will find him returning to the voice of False Maps for Other Creatures. This is what the heart lines.

in the cool morn
lives the call of song
birds and one crow
here, in the liquid
traffic of the shore
the call is calm
in the mind’s dull fire
I imagine no matter
which way I turn
I will be forever free and bitter
free for the fire burns
bitter for the suffocating
forces of that fire
the call is calm
along the liquid traffic
of the shore
out of that which all
the songbirds sing there is
who to sing a note
or two outside
the song

(False Maps… p 49)
The beauty of poetry continues to exist in the everyday but mostly remains unearthed, un noticed, so you’d better dig up yours today, and follow those False Maps for other Creatures.

Kemeny Babineau is a poet and publisher living in Mt Pleasant ON. Under his signature of Laurel Reed Books he has published many titles by both himself and others. To this point in his life he has managed to survive all bad luck: cross your fingers, please.






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