I was eventually going to get around to writing about Joe Blades’ new poetry collection from the book that doesn’t close, which I read last week, but just this morning I found out he’s been the victim of a fire that has turned his whole life upside-down. Now, there can be nothing more nightmarish for a writer than a house fire. I don’t think that the fire actually consumed Joe’s apartment, wherein is housed his manuscripts, books, papers, etcetera – but water and smoke damage is almost a certainty. It’s with that in mind that I’m writing this today, hoping Joe can recover as much of the material of his life as is possible …
I’ve known Joe Blades since the days in the mid-eighties when he lived in Halifax (he was a student at NSCAD) and published the monthly poetry zine Poetry Halifax-Dartmouth. That’s right, all you zinesters out there – monthly – and how the hell he funded it in the tight-assed provincial atmosphere of Nova Scotian culture in those days I cannot guess. This was just the norm with Joe, who always really lives the idea of being a poet to the max. Not just the writing of poetry, but the work of proselytizing – publishing, reading, workshopping. In fact the first poetry workshop I ever attended was hosted by Joe’s Bourbon Street Poetry Workshop in the summer of 1986. The first poetry reading I ever gave was hosted by same, later that summer.
He subsequently has based himself in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he founded and runs the poetry imprint Broken Jaw Press, publishes a variety of poetry zines, and does the weekly poetry program Ashes, Paper & Beans on CHSR. He has edited ten books and published six poetry collections of his own.
One example of the intense focus of Joe’s poetic practice is his interest in the nuts-and-bolts of book-making itself. He’s the author of innumerable hand-constructed little chapbooks and artist’s books. His newest collection, from the book that doesn’t close, draws on texts from a couple of his mad journal / scrapbooks which indeed are so crammed with memorabilia that they take on the shape of a spread Japanese fan. There’s a nice picture of a box full of these un-closeable journals inside from the book that doesn’t close. The copy of from the book that doesn’t close that I got from Joe during his recent book tour was actually hand-made by the author, because the publisher was late in delivering the ‘actual’ books. So Joe made ‘a sudden hand-bound by the author edition’ of ten by printing out the pages on his laser printer, cutting the pages to size, and glueing them into the cover. That’s just Joe.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I liked the spontaneity of the texts (drawn from September-October 2003), which really have that loose feel of journal-writing, all the while maintaining the essential attention to the job of poetry-writing. The poems are hospitable. One enters a Joe poem as one might enter Joe’s home. You can walk around inside these poems and go where your curiosity takes you. They read like ‘notes to self’, they read like thoughts on the fly, they read like voices whispering in dusk light. One doesn’t even realize right away how open, how generous these poems are.
rain yawns to lie down
sleep sleep away satur
too much too much
wonder about becoming caffeine-
free a beer- wine- & whisky-
free zone a poetry publishing-free
zone a venture business capitalist-
free zone an art-free zone
a joe blades-free zone
Each page is headed by a ‘detourned’ quote from The Teaching of Buddha (from his January-March 2004 journal), which offer a more ironic entry into the poet’s mind, but can often be equally poignant and to-the-point:
One should forget oneself for the sake of education; one should
forget one’s education for the sake of one’s income; one should
forget one’s income for the sake of one’s poetry; and one should
forget everything for the sake of the earth.
I came away from Joe’s poetry with the flavour of Fredericton somehow transmitted through words; there’s a strong current of landscape, of local topographies, streetscapes, the growing things and the creatures that enliven the world Joe lives in.
whole eastern sky an opened fan of sun rays
from clouds grey-blue
still the pen
not more maudlin mundane
want a song a poem something worthy
as blood pushes itself
back into bicycle-induced asleep hands
standing on another domesticated train bridge
with a thought of fictional blunt
jumping off brooklyn bridge
bald eagle glides out of unseen
below this bridge between me
and cloud reflections
pale green rivergrass sways underwater
trout rise in the pool
feeding on a busy surface of insects
The reader follows Joe’s peregrinations to readings, conferences, workshops. When Joe writes about conferences, what comes across is not just the particular individuals involved, but the hubub and buzz of various voices, cadences, accents, languages, half-heard while the poet scribbles.
the network formerly
known as the alternative
in multiplicity we
will say what we are
– françois dion
i knew that through books
there would be a place for me
… every time we publish
we build art history
– anne-marie ninacs
In general, I am taken with the whimsical notion of basing a book on a couple of journals. As I go along, generating texts with the automatic relentlessness of an old textile mill, I have found it easier and easier to conceive of and to execute interesting chapbook projects based on a wide variety of parameters. Once you’ve got all your raw material produced, figuring out how to present it becomes part of the fun. I get the same sense of fun – serious, poetic fun – with Joe Blades’ latest book. One need not start a book with the ideas all laid out on the front end. One can start anywhere – as long as the writing itself is a constant practice. Conceiving of a work this way can lead to delightful surprises along the way, and offers special rewards for the reader.
If there’s anything missing from this collection, it is more impressions of people – portraits. I’d like to see some Joe Blades portraits of the people around him. Maybe next time?
Keep on writing, Joe. Keep on being.