Indie Rock by Joe Bishop

a gale but no gale can cancel
lupins from swelling, two rockets.

To the mainlander – at least, this mainlander – what is captivating about Newfoundland is the hints at unbridled wildness; characters that touch on mythos, with “elfin auricles” and heads of “tangled kelp“. It’s an untamedness that permeates song and scene with a slight edge, and is at contrast with the effusive warmth attributed to those folks who call the Rock home. (Or, perhaps, because of it.)

And it is this contradiction that stood out to me in reading Joe Bishop’s first full-length poetry collection: 52 poems that share reflections of family and friends shared through the lens of a queer musician and poet, and are woven against a quilt of rock, religion, and recovery.

He shares a backstage pass into a world as alien to me as the green room post-encore: navigating “Haldol scrums” and recovery centres, maturing under the hush of cloistered sexuality and the spectre of infection, growing up in a geography that still remains as rural as ever.

I do think you have to have the shared Newfoundland heritage to understand some of the work (despite a short glossary at the back); it is in these times that it loses footing among the slippery rocks. Then again, I don’t suspect I’m the intended audience for this collection. (Perhaps there are even some spaces where a backstage pass doesn’t hold weight. )

With that disclaimer offered, I would contend that it is in his works stripped of any lore in which Bishop is strongest: in these places, he uses agitated pacing and punch to pen unobstructed lyrics that whisper-shout “wordless dirges” about love, loss, and the pain that fills in those spaces. Finding loved ones submerged in red bathwaters, submitting to the encroachment of personal space when in recovery, or simply in existing authentically during times when society does not believe you have the right to do so – these are the times when the author reminds us that all you can do is strum at an unplugged electric guitar to (try to) process anything, because indeed, “no volt out shocked trauma“.

These are the places where his “tempo made up for lacking loudness“, but are those in which I can hear him sing his truth most clearly.

about the author

Joe Bishop is the author of the chapbook Dissociative Songs. His work has appeared in literary journals across Canada and abroad. He has a BA in English from Memorial University. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.