Clockfire in Canadian Literature

An excellent review of Clockfire and some other fine books appeared in Canadian Literature. An excerpt:

Jonathan Ball’s Clockfire is poetry fashioned through Brechtian drama and apocalyptic nightmare. A series of short poems, Ball’s work is less concerned with poetic imagery than it is with the narration of the impossible and the description of the theatre as the absurd, or perhaps the next logical step of performance art. If life is all performance, thenClockfire presents a textual world wherein performance takes over life. The audience and the actors trade places according to a non-existent script. Poetry stands in for stage direction and dramatic dialogue.

Ball’s poetics are confrontational and relentless. The poet demands violent attention, as do the actors in his gory theatre. The poems themselves are deliberately short: they find no answers and purposefully offer nothing but the stage and the minimalist set-pieces enacted there. Rooted firmly in theatre and literary history, Ball’s work interrogates the cathartic nature of theatre and the motives—often sinister—for our incessant desire to watch. Instead of being the site of the deus ex machine, this theatre is a god or, rather, the place where we look for new gods knowing that our gods have abandoned us.

Ball’s theatre is apocalyptic. His audience, for its part, desires something completely new, the old wiped away, but Ball realizes that there can never be anything wholly new unless the old is violently murdered. The theatre we desire can only ever be glimpsed through the diegesis of Ball’s poetry.

In Ball’s theatre, the end is repeated—performed—every evening. The theatre acts as an arena of auto-thanatos—a death drive—that forces the audience and the actors to perform their own demise every night again and again.


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