|Appearance:||Interview in Touch the Donkey’s online supplement|
|Outlet:||Touch the Donkey|
It is easier to recognize faces than recall names.
It is easier to smuggle ivory than drugs.
It is easier to pass through the eye of a needle,
for me to shoot up than to think.
It is easier to write when you are sad.
The epigraph of Nikki Reimer’s sophomore collection reads as follows:
I hated your poem.
Your poem was so boring.
— inebriated audience member at a poetry reading
It’s easy to dismiss this quote as an ironic joke, in place of the usual weighty epigraph borrowing wisdom and glory from some other poet, in part because it is funny and it does function as a joke. However, since this is the epigraph for Downverse, it remains important to treat it as an epigraph, and take the sentiment seriously, in the way that the inebriated audience member seems to intend.
This is the brilliance of Downverse. Reimer’s poems, on one hand, seem to dismiss the criticism by presenting, variously, the unpoetic lexicon of insurance policies and monthly budgets, or uneducated Internet commentators, rather than conventional lyrical wordplay. In this way, Reimer’s Downverse responds to the inebriated audience’s desire for un-boring poetry by presenting, in a challenge to the challenge, the most boring language imaginable rather than felicitous, properly “poetic” turns of phrase.
On the other hand, Reimer’s Downverse responds to the challenge as if this expected lyricism is not what the audience wants, but what it has rejected as boring. Imagine, for a moment, that Reimer might, in this epigraph, be quoting herself. Imagine that she, or someone she identifies with, is the inebriated audience member ready to die from poetry boredom. Downverse then reads like a continuation of the epigraph, the audience’s ongoing response. The complaint of the epigraph then functions like the slogan of an Occupy Wall Street protestor: an aggressive, inarticulate articulation of frustration at how late-capitalist neo-liberalism has cornered even the bear market of poetry, emptying it of any Romantic, revolutionary potential.
In this way, Downverse reads as if Reimer has lost her faith in the power of poetry to express any emotion without commodifying it. (Isn’t poetry, after all, how we carve up and sell off our unique, snowflake selves? For the little they are worth.) Such anxiety haunts a poem like “materiality,” suggesting a strange affect in its affectlessness:
my monthly rent is 27%
of my monthly household income
my monthly phone bill is 5%
of my monthly household income
my monthly life insurance is 0.3%
of my monthly household income
The poem continues to list out expenditures (medical bills: 12%; books: 4% on average; debt repayment: 10%; etc.), and the first stanza ends with the grim news that “my total monthly household expenditures are 100.3% / of my monthly household income.” Later stanzas inform us of Vancouver’s rental affordability indicator (circa 2011) and other statistical, demographic, and economic information necessary to understanding just how “average” Reimer’s budgeting might be.
However cold such “expressions” feel, they are in fact as raw (in their way) as any properly “poetic” emotion, more indicative of the poet’s real concerns than any sentiment. A poem like this functions as counterpoint to a more “emotional” outpouring of what supposedly “matters” to the speaker, providing instead the bare economic reality of what the speaker actually does. The poem also expresses a frustration of sorts at both the raw data (however slightly, the poem’s speaker is losing ground) and the felt inability to meaningfully return to the kind of emotional lyricism that some readers might expect, now that every discourse, conscious or unconscious, has been overwritten by capitalist concerns.
Reimer’s basic technique in Downverse is to crash differing registers of discourse against one another to explore how they function as, on some level, the same register, a short-circuiting that often has comedic effects. A highlight of the book, “the big other,” reacts to the oft-rehearsed but banal complaint that so-called “experimental” writing flaunts its theoretical basis, by boldly titling itself after a concept from Lacanian theory, then humorously displaying how the related processes of self-construction and self-alienation play out in the social world.
Everyone you knew had houses and jobs
but it was okay, you still had your looks
you still got harassed
(“you’re shoo beeautiful”) at the bus stop.
That is the environment
that 95% of the OWS people live in.
Easy there, don’t force it.
You don’t want to overthink everything like last time.
That’s where the occupy wherever hippies will be
as soon as it gets cold.
Someone was supposed to talk to us about editing
and line breaks, but we missed the phone meeting —
Reimer crashes, here and throughout Downverse, the complaints of the Occupy Wall Street protesters against complaints about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the language of art, commerce, and frustration, to explore their interconnections and the way that they support one another even as they try to refuse, refute, or retreat from one another.
Reimer captures, collages, and excavates language with an ear for its sometimes hidden, sometimes painfully obvious, political dimensions. Downverse elegantly and often comically questions what poetry might have to do with the language that makes up our world — or might have to do now, since this language has sped past our poetry.
I won’t say these are the best written books out there. They aren’t suppose to be. I had so much fun reading them every day. I love books that go day by day. It makes it seem more real that way, like I know what they’re doing every day. A lack of insight won’t stop you from enjoying the sex, action, adventure, mystery, and yes, the sex. The writer has done a wonderful job of layering guaranteeing there is something for all in this series of books. This is not my normal genre when choosing to sit down & read. However, I whipped through all three books in less than a month. The alleged “deviant sex” in these books usually rates a vanilla plus rating. People in lust do it everywhere, and people who are familiar with each other and think sex is fun experiment. It was an interesting story, but I felt it was not very realistic (except the part about Leila being crazy), and therefore could be leading women on. The whole time I’m waiting for the plot line, for something other than BDSM sex. Some great detail of sexual exploits but I really needed more. In my opinion these books were OK as a story but I was pretty turned off by the rough stuff. The books would have been better with more of a story line and less sex, sex, sex. I haven’t bought an “erotic” book before so I guess that is why all the sex. For me, this book was about a relationship between two people with issues who worked them out together. The couple was able to grow together at their own pace without opinions from their friends or family. I also liked how they compromised with each other. If something didn’t work one way, they would try it the other person’s way to see if it would work. Christian is supposed to be a sexual deviant “Dom/Alpha” and Ana his young curious/virginal “SUB in-training.” Could have been great, sorry, but No! — didn’t turn out that way. These books were awful! I can’t believe I paid so much for such trash! Half of the book was me just flipping pages through the sex acts. This is an easy read. It is not for preteens or even teens. It is a fun mind candy read to take on vacation. I hope they make a movie. I thought it was a romance novel and it went a little bit more at some things I never thought of. I read up to chapter 5 and got to the 6th and I couldn’t read any more the language I never use so I just couldn’t read any more. I am no literary critic. In fact I consider myself a bit of a literary Philistine. But this has to be the worst written book I have ever read. I give it one star because it was such a trainwreck, I was compelled to read it to the very end just to see whether anything exciting ever happens — trust me, it doesn’t. I’m so sure a billionaire, gorgeous, accomplished CEO (who happens to only be 27) is going to be insanely in love with a mousy 22 year old who doesn’t have any real world experience and the emotional maturity of a teenager. It’s like it’s a desperate fantasy book for all those mediocre people living mediocre lives and fantasize that even though they are plain and boring, they too could have the most eligible bachelor on the planet be obsessively in love with them and devote all his waking thoughts and emotions to every little expression they make. This trilogy has got to be some kind of f-ed up conspiracy. I think EL James woke up one day and decided to try an experiment. Oddly enough I’m getting in to this whole conceptual poetry thing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like my professor, and most of the stuff we read is so lifeless and dull it makes me think that I hate everything to do with conceptual poetry. But then I’ll actually do an exercise and it’ll be kinda nice.
When you tell me to choose, I choose to sit inside the room. I close my eyes, close myself in my dream. I place this thing beside that, place myself beside its placement. I sit still in the room with the light.
So pleased to have excerpts from Clockfire, alongside outstanding analyses of my work, published in the forthcoming anthology Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage, edited by Daniel Sack!!!
My daughter Jessie and I made this mug when we were both much younger. It says “venom” on the side and that’s supposed to be a snake.
19 October 2016
It is time for a Canadian poem
For a poem that will express what it means to be Canadian
We all felt that the time was coming
And now the time has come
As you read the Canadian poem
Think of how it feels to be Canadian
How does it feel? It was hard to express
Before we had the poem
Now the poem has come to us
Now the poem has come across the prairie with its teeth
Its teeth are ready for us
To us comes the Canadian poem
[previously published in Prairie Fire and the Winnipeg Free Press]