Duck Eats Yeast, Quacks, Explodes; Man Loses Eye A Poem by Gary Barwin & Lillian Nećakov

Let’s start with the title. It is a reproduction of the headline of a news story that ran in numerous U.S. newspapers in 1910. Does it refer to a real event? In 2020, Snopes attempted to confirm the facts and concluded “if Silas Perkins did lose a prize-winning duck and/or the sight in one of his eyes back in 1910, we suspect that neither event had anything to do with an explosion caused by a pan of yeast.”

Whether or not a duck really exploded in 1910, however, is incidental to Barwin and Nećakov’s book-length poem. The century-old newspaper story is reproduced at the start of the book, but its reported incident is only the leaping off point for linguistic explosions and explorations that carry the reader across time, space, and a myriad of places both plausible and phantasmagorical.

Which is another way of saying, quantum physics is evoked. The book is one long poem separated into 144 numbered sections.

From section 131:

i;f th;in;gs co;nsta;ntl;y cha;nge
h-ow ca-n th-er-e b-e th-ing-s?

A question without an answer, unless that answer is whatever it is quantum physics is getting at. The back cover of the book makes the claim that this poem “argues for an unbridled creativity and beauty that brings us to the very centre of ourselves where we find that ‘inside, we’re all sentences.’” Sure, okay, except the sentences look like this (from 67):

a mountain made of anticipation,
the fuzzy joy of time
if Barbara Streisand were a pre-Beyoncé

supercluster and her cloned dogs
the fossil glow, why, fellas,
think non-Newtonian quantum way we were

At this point you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here? Letting the days go by, right? But wither the duck, the yeast, the quack, the man, the eye? The poets quickly leave the inciting incident far behind. The poem riffs and meditates across consciousness, breaking the boundaries of what language can capture.

only the part of the world that doesn’t want to be in a poem
should be in a poem

That’s from 69. There’s also this (from 96):

Groucho said dogs see only what is outside them
inside a library it’s dark when the books are closed

So, open this book and let in the light. Relax, as John Lennon sang, and float downstream. Tomorrow never knows. It is not dying.

Gary Barwin’s books include Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy, and The Most Charming Creatures, and with, Tom Prime, Bird Arsonist. His bestselling Yiddish for Pirates won the Stephen Leacock Medal and was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize.

Lillian Nećakov is the author of six books of poetry, numerous chapbooks, broadsides and leaflets. Her book il virus was published in April 2021 by Anvil Press (A Feed Dog Book). She ran the Boneshaker Reading series in Toronto from 2010-2020.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Guernica Editions (May 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 100 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771837810
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771837811

Michael Bryson has been reviewing books since the 1990s in publications such as The Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Paragraph Magazine, Id Magazine, and Quill & Quire. His short story collections include Thirteen Shades of Black and White (1999) and The Lizard and Other Stories (2009). His fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and other anthologies. His story Survival is available as a Kindle single. From 1999-2018, he oversaw 78 issues of fiction, poetry, reviews, author interviews, essays, and other features at The Danforth Review. He lives in Scarborough, Ontario, and blogs at Art/Life: Scribblings.