Awaiting the arrival of the butcher
O, But what shall I tell you? What is there worth being told? The future will be luminous and reckless This it was that the wives prophesied
When I showed up at your door You coaxed me with candy Shook your bracelet charms and said Let me wash away all that algebra Let your punishment fit my crime
We wandered through your wardrobe We drank intemperance The future was framed by your legs This it was that the priests envied
O, But what's left to say? What is there that hasn't been sold? Can you hear the gull's farewell? The last of the boats has sailed
And church bells no longer chime
How long now, 'til our joined heritage leads to the gallows? You smile and say: "I'll always pretend that I'm not smarter than you."
-- Paul Lisson
Occasionally, through circuitous and sometimes utterly unexpected routes, you come across the poetry of someone whose name you neither recognize nor whose work you've ever read; but, the moment you nibble (usually with trepidation) on its first lines, you simply gotta gobble and intuitively know you must now readjust your entire reading of the canon and allow for yet another brilliant voice, one never officially published for reasons known solely to the work's creator and best expressed by him.
Who him? Hamilton librarian Paul Lisson, an incredibly sophisticated poet who plays guitar and baseball with equal gusto, that's who.
How did I come to his work? Through a (now) mutual friend, another McLuhanatic whose taste (in the highest sense of that word) I trust. He casually mentioned, in an email, that he thought the best poet out there — Hands down! — was this guy he knew from Hamilton, Ont., who'd given up on publishing his poetry because the rejection slips suggested he ought to follow that po-life path. The rejection slips? For work of Lisson's calibre? I had to find out who, what, when, why and how!
I emailed him and asked to see a greater sample of his work. Poetry lovers, despite how busy we are? We do this crazy kind of stuff. The house could burn down or the pipes could freeze up or the one big window could get smithereened by crow (and replaced today — Yay Larry and Barry! — Yes!); and, trust me, you'd never notice. You'd be ipso-gonzo into the marks on the page or screen. Lisson sent me an unpublished manuscript. Bloody amazing stuff. I could not believe it had been rejected by anyone and will never understand why so many mediocre volumes of versifyin' appear in this (or any other) country while his work languishes in obscurity.
Well, that's not entirely true: I sort of understand that it might scare most poetry editors who cannot read poetry correctly (and, believe you me, they do exist right across the board). In my opinion, Lisson's work — difficult, demanding and utterly transfixing — requires work, hard mental work on the part of its readers; it also requires a polymathic widely read mind and a stalwart heart; in short, it requires a poetry lifer, someone who knows the greats and how to differentiate between today's flavour and tomorrow's fixture on the landscape of the highest art form granted this gawd-fersaken planet, praise Him.
After reading the latest manuscript I'd wrangled and wrestled from him (almost), I asked him about a month or so ago: "Can I publish one of the poems here in our blog?"
Next thing I know, 'bout eight days later, he reappears in my emailbox telling me of his great love of Jimi Hendrix and sending along a pic of him wearing his baseball duds during a game he's playing. Now, I am hooked: He's wearing that glove on his right hand; and, because there's no netting, I can't figure if he's playing shortstop or first base (because if he's playing first, that southpaw should be wearing a glove with netting, no? And, everybody knows shortstops hardly wear gloves :)).
He's playing first but hates those gloves, he reveals later; also, it's not a mouthguard; it's a wad of gum. ("Hit lead-off 18 of 21 years. Got slower, but smarter.") And then he sends me a pic of him playing guitar à la Hendrix along with a pic of him as a youthful child holding Hendrix's albums in his butterfly-splayed arms proudly displaying them for posterity. Sixties? Prolly. Authentic? Absolutely.
I respond: "Great! We're both southpaws; we both love guitar and baseball; and, you write better poetry. Will you marry me; or, failing that, will you PLEASE allow me to feature one of your poems here In Other Words?"
"Happily married," replies Mr. Lisson (whose name is drool-worthy itself, just listen). "Okay. Take your pick. I'd love to have it appear in your blog." The accompanying pic with this return answer? Him playing what looks to be a Stratocaster with a fedora shadowing his face (but one of our IOWerZ T-Shirts clearly visible!). That's the kind of guy he is. I like this man (b. 1956); but, I love his poetry. I ask him to say something about it, to set it up for you, as it were, to give us all a sense of why it is so important and so very very fine (or, frankly, comparable with, I'd say — sans façon — the work of David Jones or T. S. Eliot).
First, the meticulous and scrupulous bibliographically inclined librarian sends a pair of quotes, prefacing his actions by explaining that words fail him:
"The days of this society are numbered; its reasons and its merits have been weighed in the balance and have been found wanting . . ." — Debord, Guy. 2008. La sociedad del espectáculo. Buenos Aires, Argentina: la marca editora. See also: McDonough, Tom. 2004. Guy Debord and the Situationist International: texts and documents. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
"A person's life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture." — Italo Calvino
Then, mere hours later? He sends a poem. Figures. Of beauty.
Words for Judith
I hate it when the dead guy drives. These melancholy meanderings return, inevitably, to the cold beginnings of a conspicuously wasted jive journey of debauched Benzedrine benders and Benedictine chasers. Gas-station memories brew scented temptations tendered under the cross at the border crossing.
"To launch a manifesto you have to want: A. B. & C. and fulminate against 1, 2, & 3."
Pavel: The man next door, the one with the sable hat, his radio is easily heard through these paper walls. For the third time this hour they have played that jingle by Mayakovsky, followed each time by the announcer praising Our Glorious Poet of the Revolution. And three times I have heard the man next door spit. Where does he spit? On the floor? On the radio itself? Surely not into a basin, in which case to spit would mean nothing."
History tells us that peace is a respite from war; war is a means of obtaining a somewhat better or somewhat worse peace. But history tells us nothing about the real power: the power of fashion.
My interest in writing has evolved. I studied Rare Books and Manuscripts with Richard Landon at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. I studied the History of Books and Printing with Dr. Desmond Neill at Massey College. I've picked up a few degrees and a diploma in Archives. I had terrific professors at McMaster University, including R. H. Johnston, T. E. Willey, David Barrett, Graham Roebuck and many others who lent me books and inspired me to seek out books.
My interest in writing has evolved.
Are books, in the way I understand them, going the way of the fountain pen and the typewriter and the rotary phone? So which way am I going, with my fountain pen and typewriter and rotary phone?
My interest in writing has evolved and to find audience — pages are copied and distributed. This by hand. Audience huddles around table. Words are spoken. Recited.
There! The snoring begins. Creep. Enter. Drink. Throttle. Smoke. Tickle. Seventy-two puddles. Four corners of the blanket. Simple as that.
The man next door, the one with the sable hat, murdered! His apartment looted, his gold teeth plucked out, and a trail of sausages leading off into the morning mist. To add insult to injury, I am not even a suspect. Though I argued with the policeman for a quarter of an hour, begging him to at least consider me as the culprit, he would have none of it and dismissed me with a wave of his hand.
Bravo, Mr. Lisson. I stand in awe, given the splendour of your weapons. Thank you.
(Fedora doff, Bruce Elder.)
( Awaiting the arrival of the butcher and Words for Judith © 2012 Paul Lisson. World-exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Photograph of Paul Lisson © 2012 Jim Chambers. All rights reserved. Used by written permission.)