Chapbooks and Spine Books and Green Wind

Those of you in America know that March is Small Press Month in the U.S. A publicity for it uses this: “Small presses take chances. Chances are at the heart of all the literature we later know as Great” – Kay Ryan.
Conventional wisdom crows the superiority of the small. A large organization risks losing circulation, stifling itself, being a ship that turns slowly, whereas small organizations can zip about more readily, adaptive and closer to “the people”.
I like the metaphors except it seems like our Old Friend, Binary Thunk. Both models work.
Their size doesn’t make the entity immortal nor necessitate death. Multinationals and global empires are destined to fail just as individuals are destined to die eventually.
To exist as a large body or in one small one are parallel and intermingling systems of survival. Similarly, if one is to do a plastering media campaign that infiltrates everywhere, it may work. I still have jingles in my head from the 70s. Or the tipping point can come by word of mouth and very few attempts to publicize. Which translates to sales or cultural embeddedness? If one nurtures a few eggs, or creates thousands and abandons them to fate, both models have worked for millennia.
You know what I was just saying on small press and those who flow back and forth between? It’s not as a poet’s movement is barbed and bound for one direction only as a porcupine quills presses forward, acting as medicine as it goes thru. [i.e. as an antibiotic]
As a case, I look at Ken Norris.
Would conventional wisdom say that should he get a book with McClelland that he would never look or turn back? He’s been at Wolsak and Wynn, Coach House, Talon and yet does a chapbook, Green Wind.
Spine or threaded binding doesn’t negate or displace the possibility of the other. We don’t have the attitude that if one gives public speeches, one isn’t permitted to converse again. Or if one wears shorts, one is banned from long pants after that. It seems unlikely that one would produce work only one way. Anyhew,
Green Wind. It is a lovely chapbook. I hadn’t attended to the fellow before but I read straight thru this 3 times consecutively, once aloud. There’s a richness and “meat” and lovely flow of balance and sound. Here’s one which appeals because the notions of entitlement and buddhism and riding the wild horses of the mind appeal but in his sketch, the reveals in how he does line breaks are little pleasures.

Exploring Philosophical Differences
by Ken Norris, Green Wind
Trying to explain North American unhappiness
to a Cambodian Buddhist
is difficult.
He knows that the nature of existance
is suffering, that happiness is something
one strives for, and reaches
only upon enlightenment.
In the West
we feel entitled to be happy,
then wonder why we aren’t.
The food is good, the shelter warm,
there are goodies to go around
for almost everyone. Yet still
life is haunted by an underlying misery
and an awful fear of death.
My Buddhist friend smiles
his sad smile.
He seems better prepared
for every reality.

That sample alone might mislead as a sole sample as he also has poems within that are an accumulation of senses and details. They are long and hard to excerpt such as his History of the Morning watching dawn come over Phnom Penh or Meanwhile where we are also in Cambodia where,

[…] Blue rooftops attempt to emulate the sky
failing miserably.
Meanwhile everything that is growing, grows:
plants and animals, children and civil unrest.
Heavy trucks negotiate the broken streets.
palm trees offer coconuts to a generally disinterested populace.
The central water tower allows itself to be utilized
and planks of wood are nailed into place.
Meanwhile the monks are chanting in orange robes.
car horns are honking in the street,
on or two birds are taking flight,
a green heart is being born.
Meanwhile the heat eats away at the most patient,
ants parade on their way to new bounty,
industriousness labours long hours, electricity
pours through lax wires,

I have to stop somewhere but I love how it spirals forward and surprises. The humidity of the day suggested in by power lines damp and heavy with their electricity.
The cadence is there to the degree I can picture the posture. The turns are not as frequent as a ghazal or single-climaxing as a sonnet. He uses a list but adds to the notion with a playfulness of adding abstract noun here and there, industriousness and civil unrest, as concretely palpable as the regular ole ants. He attends to small movements and is content to be conduit and let the things talk and step back more than many poets who want to find objects to house the ideas they want to promote. It comes, or seems to come more organically. Sitting and things floating up to be written down and the objects bring whatever significance they want with them.
It is a set of poems that makes one feel welcome to sit alongside. They divulge in a considered way without stumbling forward in artifice, breathily, with an urgency about universality of birds, or what have you. They aren’t good ole boy conversational chatty. The ideas aren’t seeking spotlights as being a Poem but feel pleasant.
Perhaps that’s terribly Canadian. Because it doesn’t feel like the poems are aiming to divulge important things in sophisticated ways, nor kludge in the hard close, one can linger without feeling swatted. Here’s some stuff I experienced they say. No remarks on tethering to grandiose legends. Some of the poems are achy with loss of moving on. There are Feelings but it’s not swimming in sentimentality. Any realization seems to rise out of the character of the poem rather than an editorial tacked on. Things are observed but it’s not talking from the head. Poems are very much grounded in the body’s awarenesses of a particular time and place of life. Interesting journey.

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