At over 140 pages, rob mclennan’s World’s End, (ARP, 2023) is thick in number of lines but then, poetry titles tend to be longer on average than a decade or two ago. That said, World’s End, doesn’t feel unnecessarily, nor overly long. It doesn’t feel padded or like there’s any section it would do without. It’s a dense and slow read but rewarding in the way mclennan’s mind grasps and graphs the world. Despite what you may gather from the title, this is not a depressing, post-apocalyptic work. It is however very much about cherishing the perishing moment. In “Dispatch from the Future Bakery,”
“Temporary chaos, thinned to thinking. Impressions sharp, acquainted. Coffee, shadows. The past is not a land we live but leave, abandoned. Sing your townhouse, conch.”
We are instructed to face forward with curiosity and awareness rather than mope in regret, grief or recriminations. It is alert. Multiple readings keep rewarding with pleasure of the movement among ideas.
The self-deprecating humour in this tickles. We dream of something as ours as complex as a townhouse and yet we are feeding tubes, a conch, a mollusk, a place where food goes in, waste goes out, sex may happen and death will come. We are in a swirl of eddying food-rich water column but it’s hard or as simple as we want it to be. We can be humble.
The mandala of the man is by fragments of verbal petals sifting and sinking. Poems consider, process, point, are a bouquet strewn and floating. It starts with what I found rather tickling delightful series of “Glossary of Musical Terms” including “In the key of Rose, “In the key of B#” and “In the key of Edit” (“Tempo, tempo, grave. Illusion, without dust. Engaged to form and barely kiss.”)which has impressionist music of moments, playing with the idea of music and tone and person as music. This would seem an extension riffed from An Overture in the Key of F by Carrie Olivia Adams (above/ground, 2013).
No world is derailed in rob mclennan’s World’s End, because there is no railroading of one intent to one station of convincing you of The One Important Thing. The poems are peripatetic. You know, The Emotional Arc. The Theme. There’s a dance of reveal and re-veil. What is seen and passed on to see is not kept in one proportional diorama but all is invited in, micro, macro, concrete and conceptual, word and experience, all as equals.
In “Alta Vista, south,” you have the link and shift of focus demonstrated:
“Traffic, trestle, tensile. Penetrate the interior. Principles of rural, carved. Layered, stripped of something. Carved, and antiseptic: curved. Hard rock, scaled and blushing. This old shed. The bureaucratic forms of ego, death, communities.”
Poetry isn’t so unimportant that humour can’t be let in. There’s play for its sake in chiming words like Dennis Cooley uses at times. There are many hinges and multiple readings and mulling, sitting with. Things don’t have to be resolved or packaged with a box and bow. The pleasure and pique of sounds, how they could relate. “Principles of rural, carved” evokes for me Phil Hall’s poetics of rural then reworked. The next two lines of the poetry as process. Hard rock suggests hard rock cafe, and mountain climbing and suggestive once we add blushing. It enacts how significance can shift with each erasure or addition, how meaning is mutable if we don’t lock ourselves into confirmation bias silo.
The poetry is a dance of approach and distance, approach from oblique angles, of observing. Set phrases such as “What say you.” are intercut, grounding it in vernacular. Poetry is a reduction yes, in Perth” there’s the phrase “Long-parsed.” Is it not disservice to parse northern lights into nutshells? Some things make more sense spread out and considered.
The poems can be meta. Thinking about thinking, a practice of practice. See, “A smallness, to travel. An insignificance. Travel writing, I hate you. It suffers so much at the surface.” The self too large for carry-on but has been brought along anyway. “Sustained artifice, and fruity drinks. No postcards: no reason to think of any place but here.”
In a way that encapsulated the struggle of what is worth carrying forward. As if the poems state: We humans are in closed cycle of earth. May as well pay attention to others. Epigraphs. Photographs. See what envelops. Link and shift. Shift, link. Grounded in now. Tethered in a cobweb of what is known about before. Relationships and remnants of globally known events and timelines. Everything together. Inseparable. Nothing becomes irrelevant. It is still there, ancient wreck of a ship even if it existing and us existing is the closest tangent in common. And this “away” you speak of is platonic abstract. Even on vacation, we can’t. Our perception makes engine can’t help but turn over, batteries can’t help but charge & discharge ideas. Juxtapose, adjust a pose, a posse of concepts.
It is a poetry of Radical Presentness. To acknowledge is to start to know. Hare-leap sharing. Shearing the wooly and rewigging the oversimplified, ensuring, what? A tethering of you accept the tangled dangled connections. Where you were in another when was Hemingway. Will be who?
What makes sense is not so much story. Stories are already stories. Poetry can do other things. If it can be summarized, is it poetry. If you don’t get what’s being said, has communication happened. What if you do but she doesn’t. Poetry is intimate inside the moment of *gesture to world* and both of you see that. Both real and metaphor at once. Then we blink.
Like Rosmarie Waldrop, mclennan works against easy linear, recognizing even the earth isn’t solid where feet sink into sand and water is firm enough to hold up swimmers and boats. At atomic level and electrical ion level there is no discrete separation into all our labelled silo. Poems question and resist automatic thinking. Images of resistance, bindings, boundaries run though like an elasticized thread. Water and feet represent the fluidity of perception and the universe, and the importance of movement and one’s self-determination and choice.
In “birthday, forty-four” there’s a characteristic iambic heart, and ends with the touchstone of not being overly sure so much that you stop gathering information and understanding. “Uncertainty of facts, persist.”
It’s okay to not get everything or say everything. This is permission granted by example to speak even if whatever. Patterns comfort and confine. Breaking patterns gives discomfort and freedom. The play between these contain everything so far. Discarded socks to batteries montage. The lyric with “your pretty abstracts” (p.119) is not the only option. What makes sense and what doesn’t fit we need it all. I’ll close with a quote from “Mother’s Day”,
“We subsist in patterns, recognized. The opposite of apathy. Subset. Remaining yes for mezza.”
About the Author
rob mclennan is a poet, essayist, editor, reviewer, and blogger based in Ottawa. His writing is grounded using language in fresh ways to discover, clarify, and understand the world and his surroundings. mclennan is the author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, as well as over one hundred chapbooks of poetry and fiction. He has been twice long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize and was awarded the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award and the John Newlove Poetry Award.
- Publisher : Arp Books (Oct. 15 2023)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1927886783
- ISBN-13 : 978-1927886786
Pearl Pirie's WriteBulb is now available at the Apple store. A prompt app for iOS 15 and up gives writing achievement badges. Pirie’s 4th poetry collection was footlights (Radiant Press, 2020). rain’s small gestures (Apt 9 Press, 2021), minimalist poems, won the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize. Forthcoming chapbooks from Catkin Press and Turret House. Find more at www.pearlpirie.com or at patreon.com/pearlpiriepoet