I can’t handle surrealist poetry. It slips out of my hands.
I remember when Eleanor and I sat in a hammock together during 20th Century American Fiction. We loved Professor Scanlan, but we still wrote poetry during class.
Eleanor cast a line. I cast mine. Her words were pickerel hiding in the grass. Mine were troutlets congregating in gravely riffles. Together, we dangled our Bics over a brown river of vending machine coffee and watched an angry bear on the opposite shore. Slighted, Hulga pawed and pawed after her missing leg.
“Give me my leg.”
From the back of the classroom, we listened to that good Christian boy kiss her missing leg. He made horrible noises, like a fish, as he did it.
Nick Adams might have blinked. Maybe. He saw it happen, anyhow. But he kept fishing. He knew how to cast a good line from the safety of a rhomboid tank, and the whole thing was “very satisfactory, ” he said. Even Quintin Compson, who breathed quite heavily in the darkness, said he didn’t hate it.
Eventually, the wars ended like college. Lots of grey smoke and promissory notes. I carried my tackle box home, and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets always smelled of worms. But once our grasshoppers were behind us, we all lost touch.
We built a bridge last week. Across the Assiniboine. The meandering river runs as a tributary through Osborne Village, a big-hearted enclave of art here in Winnipeg. The bridge is a “surprisingly delicate concrete-and-aluminum poem, ” according to one CBC reviewer.
While we sleep inside simple quadrilaterals, herds of bison fly over our heads at 55 Nassau Street. “You better go fishing, ” they tell us. “The stones are hot, ready for cooking.”
But how do you cook a surrealist poem? How do you even catch it? That’s what I want to know.
I watch the village artists, how they gather anecdotes, hopes and dreams from the neighbourhood and arrange this native text on aluminum plates, upon which the dead fish stare back at us with back lit LED eyes.
When an artist feels a peculiar hunger, he might scale and gut images with a dull knife and then butterfly them with a sharp knife. This can look quite disturbing at times. He needs to hold his messy, disparate pieces together and balance the elephants with the melting pocket watches.
And so surrealism takes us fishing and carries a license to pull up whatever it finds. But perhaps surrealism can also be a taut, invisible line, which stretches us across a well-meaning bridge. And then pulls us under.
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