A Meta-Textual Hive: Double Self-Portrait By James Lindsay

In his poem “Survivors” from the collection Double Self-Portrait out in August with Wolsak &Wynn, the poet James Lindsay writes,  “It’s suspect to trust any type of identification that isn’t self-applied.” Thus in his book, aliens resemble humans, computers are likened to the human brain, children are and are not their parents in miniature; and memories have more to do with a nostalgic self negotiating a present moment than the brute fact of vanished days.

In essence, this is a book that takes art and popular culture as “selfie” extremely seriously.

Early on in Double Self-Portrait, Lindsay is hyper-vigilant in laying out his core themes – art as reproduction, art as a doubling or even Xeroxing of human experience – and as such he tirelessly interrogates the autobiographical self he creates in these poems.

Take, for instance, the longer poem “Failed Interview Questions” where a father looks at his child and questions the parental instinct to see ourselves in our children:

"Do you realize how useless
I am to you, that I cannot keep
you alive alone, I am a need
as much as you but you are
narcissism without centre
and I am anxiety measured
by the way I judge my double
self-portrait and don’t think
that means you, look-alikes
live in the internal, that artificial
visual of you that existed before
you existed, mind-made bait
designed to lure me to you."

In this section, the father sees the child as a reproduction of himself, but he is also painfully aware the child is separate from that self and his love can only protect the child so much.  

In other areas of the collection, the poet Lindsay has many standout poems referencing other poems he has written for it. For example, there is the poem “Repro Ditto” where he writes uber-consciously:

“I lost part of the first draft of ‘Repro Ditto,’
the poem you are now reading, so I’m rewriting
it from memory.”

Still later in the concluding poem of the collection, he swings back to an earlier poem when he writes:

“Dear Reader, earlier in this book, in the Ekphrasis! Ekphrasis!
section, which was originally its own chapbook before being

absorbed into this book, is the title poem of this book, “Double
Self-Portrait.” I wanted to make a picture ... It’s based on a picture

of the same name by Jeff Wall in which he doubles himself.
As I write this I am fantasizing about using it on the cover

of this book. Did it happen? This me will never know.”

The photograph he references is, of course, the cover of the book but Lindsay could not have known this at the time of writing the poem. This self-referencing creates an interesting doubling effect as there is the poet writing the poem, and then our experience of reading the poem many months, or perhaps years, after the poem was written.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the serious word-play Lindsay gets up to in this book. In the opening poem “Tinnitus”, Lindsay writes, “O kazoo, no one truly loves you. / Too much oomph to your oompa” which instantly brought a smile to my face. Later in the same poem, Lindsay calls Tinnitus “an arthritis of the ears” and crickets “critics of sunsets”.

However, if there is a through-line to this whole poetry collection it is this: memory as knock-off, art as reproduction, and the poet standing above it all as a sort of “cut-and-paste man” trying to make sense of his poems which are only replicas of an original impulse or an authentic experience. Lindsay makes his peace with this divide, and his poems are products of that understanding.  

Less a book, Double Self-Portrait by James Lindsay resembles a meta-textual hive, full of a buzzing energy created by the many connections the poems weave among themselves. Double Self-Portrait is available from Wolsak & Wynn publishers this coming August.

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Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of six collections of poems with Deepfake Serenade from Nightwood Editions forthcoming in Fall 2021. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.

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