The love poem is becoming a lost art. As society becomes more and more obsessed with scientific explanations and the language attached, there has been a move to distrust sentimentality and overt emotion. Hierarchy of Loss attempts to reclaim this lost language by constructing a set of poems directed to a mysterious and amorphous lover.
Hierarchy of Loss struggles against this loss of sentiment by arranging itself as a collection of photographic poems, lyric works that hinge on the viewing and descriptive eye that frames each poem off from the next. The poems are at their most effective when they are at their tiniest, their starkest. Midnight Julie for example is a brief and intense portrait of loneliness and longing told through the filter of a Van Morison song:
"Your radio turned too low
Filling my bed like an actress on the big screen
It's not midnight
And you're not Julie
But it sounded good"
In this poem McCabe does a good job of filtering all the excess sensation (the song, the TV screen and audio) and turning it into a tight, small corner of understated sadness.
However, McCabe rarely describes a scene in this way and lets it sit on its own. He creates distracting excess in the poems by first abstracting the scene he is describing, then further narrating his own thoughts on that very scene. The poem Above the Elephants begins:
"The heroic half wish exists in that space
Or half space
Where droplets contain revelations:
Manifestations of being and beginning
Beginning being unto a greater good"
Immediately, the reader is thrown into a place of complete non-existence, being forced to navigate the vague landscape of abstracts. Nothing concrete is given to the reader to grasp onto. This constant move away from the descriptive objects and images the works are initially focused on in favour of the abstract musings of the narrator is both distracting and often redundant. More than this, the abstractions muddy the description, forcing McCabe to include excess language and adjectives to explain more to the reader, when a stark simple line centering around a physical act, sensation or object might have worked better. Later in the same poem the reader is given this description:
"The brightly painted unicycle
The laughing rubber horn
The well-used spritzer bottle"
The poem stretches out here needlessly as the adjectives pile on and further, detracting from the honest and interesting emotional connections and relationships being developed in the poems.
From this over description, he begins to reflect openly on the bucket he's been using as a central object:
"I realize the circular hole is not tin
Nor is the drop falling
Compared to what we don't see
Which may or may not be galvanized tin"
Again, the narration of the poet's thoughts is heavy-handed, breaking the cardinal rule of "Show, don't tell." Along with guiding the reader too directly, it populates the work with the speaking ego too much. This detracts from the relationships attempting to be explained here. Unfortunately, Above the Elephants is a microcosm of the problems plaguing the book. Hierarchy of Loss is over-saturated with the "I" perspective, an intrusive ego, describing or commenting, steering the reader away from the interesting and effective sentiments here. McCabe finds more success at other times with focus, with something in the foreground of the poem.
Aaron Tucker is a regular reviewer for The Danforth Review and The Women's Post and has published further commentary in The Antigonish Review, Matrix Magazine and The Southernmost Review. He is currently living and writing in Toronto.
So, I'd like to start with a comment made near the end of your Late Nights with Wild Cowboys, in the poem "Jawbone." You express real fear and anxiety over the prospect of having your life and love be objectified, turned into summary, a bowdlerized rendering that "[leaves] nearly everything out." More than that, though, you are worried about how we ourselves are complicit in this sort of exclusionary act. I guess what I'd like to ask first, then, is: do you imagine poetry as a means of letting things in rather than keeping everything out? And what are you aiming to let in, exactly?
I really do think of poetry in that way, in terms of providing a space -- an opening -- in which it might be possible to say the things that are hard, and perhaps impossible, to say otherwise; in which to express that inarticulate feeling that you get sometimes...continue reading
Steve McOrmond's new collection of poems begins with a caution. In the style of TV content warnings, "Advisory" lists potential disturbing content to come: "themes which could threaten the viewer's sense of security," "Evidence of fatalism and irreligion," and the typical forewarnings about sexuality, violence and "language." Here McOrmond displays the dual cautionary and playful perspectives that interact throughout the book, switching from warnings about a drowning and an animal attack to the line, "The following program may contain scenes not suitable for language."
The poem raises the expected questions about what we censor and screen in popular media. What is considered objectionable, and why? Placed at the start of a collection whose title references Armageddon, "Advisory" leads the reader to expect a certain discomfort.
With that warning, the book moves to the title...continue reading