canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Every Inadequate Name
by Nick Thran
Insomniac Press, 2006

Reviewed by Ailbhe Darcy

The excerpts that preface Nick Thran's collection Every Inadequate Name could almost be disclaimers for poetry. In Jack Gilbert's 'Haunted Importantly' the speaker moves through Madrid's alleys following the sound of a bell, seeking its source. Just before reaching it, he turns back: "…No need, / he thought, to see the bell. It was not the bell / he was trying to find, but the angel lost / in our bodies. The music that thinking is."

In Sue Sinclair's 'Roses', the speaker again moves towards a significant object, this time the eponymous flowers, before drawing back: "…Then you remember / the necessary and sufficient. This isn't it, / but you don't know where else to begin."

It is as if poetry can never look "the necessary and sufficient" straight in the eye, can only begin with what it knows. It is only ever a science of approximation, of looking at bells and flowers even while knowing that what it's really pursuing is something else. And this is the sense in which the book's blurb, which credits Thran with a 'pop sensibility' is correct. His poems wander through Laundromats, nightclubs, omelettes and pop songs, only ever circling the profound.

Thran writes engagingly and with clarity. Formally he is neither ambitious nor experimental. His poems can lack craft and even music – a sense in which the claim to 'pop sensibility' is less accurate. But he is a relatively young poet and startlingly sure of his voice.

Thran's youth makes surprising the lack of experimentation and the conservative sentiments with which he toys. "I want the wisdom of old age early," he writes ('La Linea'). In 'Eagle Nest' a neighbourhood is "devoured" by the "sprawl of suburbia". This is an uncomfortably didactic poem, were it to stand alone. Similarly 'Club Amnesia' privileges one generation's reality – Granpa's – over another's – "mine are lighter times." Thran's generation (my generation) stands accused of "the absence of any real memory in us." As Gabriel Josipovici wrote recently in The Liberal (and as critics of the apparently innocuous film Amelie knew) this kind of nostalgia "for a lost homeland, a lost childhood or a lost way of life" contains its own dangers. As Josipovici observed, "the desire to return is by now deeply enmeshed with the ideas of patriotism and a native land, ideas which, in the past hundred years, have done little but harm." Despite their readability, I found little to charm in the romantic notions of 'Eagle Nest' and 'Club Amnesia'.

But it is unfair to focus on these two poems alone. In reality, the collection as a whole is more explorative of this theme. 'Coastline Variation #86' is celebratory of our generation and, for this reader at least, delightful. It conjures up friends in their twenties "pooling what little we know / of constellations," making up names when their limited knowledge runs out. After a while, "All that comes to mind / is television", but the poem concludes triumphantly:

I make no apologies. We gather what scraps we can,
XXXXrummaging over the junk-
yard of stars. The end
XXXXof our labour: an armoured
El Dorado, our surefire plan to plow
XXXXall the clear way through the darkness.

And in the end, those who refuse "to even listen to any music recorded / after nineteen-sixty-eight" are dismissed as 'schmucks' ('How Pop Sounds PT 2 (The White Album)'). Change is embraced, become beautiful: "your indelible tracks through the blank-leaved book."

This is a lovely book, a simple pleasure to read. To say so is not to suggest it lacks seriousness: all the while Thran is arranging the roses, giving them thought, he is whispering to us that this isn't really about the roses at all – but something bigger and deeper, for which names might be inadequate.

Ailbhe Darcy was born in Dublin in 1981 and likes to think she's not a shmuck.






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