To mark National Poetry Month, In other Words is being guest-edited by rob mclennan. Throughout April, rob will present the work of dozens of poets he thinks deserve readers' attention.
Today: Pearl Pirie
There was a moment in February 2007 that a few of us picked up on, those around the workshop table, when Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie changed her approach to the poem. Turned, as they say, on a dime. It was in the midst of a session of poetry workshops I was running at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Ottawa's slightly-west end. "Yours," she told me, "is the first workshop I haven't dropped halfway through." Before this, Pirie had been exploring the small lyric in a confined narrative space turned inward and, at times, barely able to lift her head.
During the course of the poetry workshop, one of the projects I gave was for the group to enter into the online Ubu Editions of avant-garde poetry, book-length works available as free pdfs. I told them, pick a title and write a response to the work. I always make a point not to be any more clear than this, and some have responded with short review essays, and others, poems. There have even been those who have refused the avant-garde style, and usually result in the most interesting and compelling discussions. "I now know what I don't want to do," one student broadcast. What made bpNichol a great writer, someone once said, wasn't that he was great at everything, but that he was willing to fail, therefore pushing through many more boundaries. Pirie is still learning these boundaries, but has developed a certain, and even increasing, fearlessness throughout her poetry over the past few years, unafraid to try new things, to succeed or to fail.
But this is where Pirie's writing turned; we could see it, in the way she came alive through her response. It was the how and the what she responded to from the online reissue of Vancouver poet Deanna Ferguson's The Relative Minor (a book originally published by Tsunami Editions in 1993). This was Pirie suddenly working her writing further through sound, mashed words and an unhindered sequence of meanings. It's been the way she has responded in the weeks and months since, through general responses to the work of jwcurry, and, more specifically, variations on Gregory Betts' ongoing "plunderverse" project. Her writing became quickly and quietly more daring, more confident, more aware of sound and of serious play, as her more recent word chain umpteen-eight shows. What she has shown in a number of venues over the past few years, including in open sets and featured readings around Ottawa, journals online and print, and in chapbooks self-produced, moving eventually through her own publications produced by Amanda Earl's AngelHousePress, Michael Mann's unarmed journal, jwcurry's 1cent and my own above/ground press. The strength of her serious play is also the reason why Chaudiere Books is producing her first trade title this autumn, been shed bore (this poem comes from the manuscript).
What do the most interesting poems provide? Often as many questions as there are certainties, and Pirie alternates, able to turn even her questions in on themselves. These are poems learning how to explore simply by exploring. Oh, and the places she goes.
word chain umpteen-eight
if you got it, flaunt, flout, pout, shout to spigots, spout to jiggers, joust, go for a jaunt, be jauntily rakish, gaunt, if you want, wont won't be spoken to that way so spork up, sparking days, uncorked bubbly haze, level gaze, clerk, shirk, shuck off, tick off sherlock, her locked pocketed, talk it down, take it down a notch sprocket, clock it follow, hollow, tallow, tail, a swallowtail, dive, angular, the shaved jawline defined by what o'clock shadow?
Photo of Pearl Pirie by Roland Prevost