canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The I.V. Lounge Reader
Paul Vermeersch, Editor
Insomniac Press, 2001

Reviewed by Shane Neilson

Poetry readings are dictatorial prose performances, whereas books are participatory democracies: authors supply the literature and readers supply the literacy. What links a performer to his audience at the I.V. Lounge proper is his visual appearance, the sound of his voice, in essence a visual/oral charisma. In contrast, the intimacy between author and reader is a matter of typeface. Authors ingratiate themselves in a very old fashioned way: through the written word.

Readings- so different than the solitary process of reading- are judged according to different criteria than books. Was he/she pretty? Did he make funny faces? Was she drunk? Did I have a good time? Books that consist solely of performance transcripts should be too. I propose a few evaluative points: (1) is the book true to its performers? (2) Does the personality of the I.V. Lounge come through in its print avatar, the I.V. Reader? (3) Is there a faithful representation of the three-years-running I.V. Lounge roster? Ultimately, though, a reviewer asks the most important question: does the book perform on the page (4)?

The former three criteria are complicated by the fact that no reviewer could possibly service them. There is no multimedia option with this title's 231 pages; no sound clip, scent clip, and tactile clip queued for each selection. To treat this book properly as per #1-3, one would have attended every reading of the material included in the book. Thankfully, the latter criterion exempts the reviewer from physical attendance.

In terms of anthologies, it is refreshingly unlike the usual unithemed variety festooning Canadian lists. The I.V. Reader lacks the cohesiveness of a volume containing, for instance, ethnic-only writings, or the glue of gender-identity polemics. There is no overweening theme to be found here, just an assortment of disparate fictions and poems that, according to the Law of Mass Action, will appeal to a satisfying fraction of a reader's tastes.

If there were a shared element amongst the I.V. Loungerati, it would consist not of theme but rather of attitude: a surfeit of cool suffuses this book. The writers are mostly young , and if not young, are boomer subscribers to counterculture. They write without nostalgia, preferring either whimsy or grit; often there is a relaxed ease to their words that catalogue urban angst with lazy imprecision. There are no shared themes, only eschewed ones: there's nary a dory to be found, nor are there wildernesses, yawning prairie plains, or that recent blighted staple of Canlit, the chronicling of mouldering matriarchies. It's therefore unsurprising to note that the book suffers from a certain Centre-Of-The-Worldishness; at least 25 of 39 writers hail from Toronto.

The rhythm of this paper lounge is generally poet alternating with prose writer, beginning with David McGimpsey, Canadian poet of pop-culture oddity, who writes in ironic-comedic mode (titles include "Say You, Say Me, Says the Guy at the Pharmacy" and "The Gap Ads Are Killing Me"). He's a great choice for an introduction, as he best suits the book's tone of urbane cool. McGimpsean humour is followed by a Tomas Dobozy tale of a stalled writer in search of notebooks stolen by the former boyfriend of a female Vancouver punk-jazz band groupie. Other subjects include sex, the nexus of psychotherapy and caninophilia, secretarial anomie, and self-conscious poesy.

Beyond the cruel vicissitudes of taste, one major objection must be made: Paul Vermeersch has an agenda. Why else give a measly three pages to John Stiles, and a whopping ten to George Bowering? Certain contributors get more stage time than others, and the reason behind this quantity isn't quality.

Yet I return to my original objection: I wasn't there to breathe in the healthy cigarette smog of fertile chosen poets, I didn't drink the healthy swill that makes for a receptive mind, I haven't set foot on Dundas. If I did, perhaps I'd understand the camera times and be preoccupied only with snapping my fingers, agreeing with Vermeersch as he writes in his introduction, "...[t]his anthology is merely a sampling, one that captures the feeling and spirit of the I.V. Lounge Reading Series, as well as the wide variety of styles of writing that one may encounter there... I hope it proves to be as enjoyable to read in silence as it would be to hear the work read aloud in a room crowded with friendly listeners."

There must be something perpetuating the I.V. Lounge Series, considering its three year chronology. "Reading Series" are usually once-off opportunities; sustained series last as long as their creators' energies or the financial success of the venues- sell enough liquor, and a stage has staying power. Equally rare as a series with longevity is a non-award-based anthology that matters. Here's to another several years' nights of poetry on Dundas, and to another book, so I can at least say that I was there when the first book was published, if not when that guy was drunk and she made hilarious faces.

Shane Neilson is a poetry editor at The Danforth Review. He lives in Newfoundland.







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