Review -The Globe and Mail
sensual pleasures of the word
By MEG WALKER Saturday, March 8, 2003 - Page D5
Hawksley Burns for Isadora
By Hawksley Workman ECW, 61 pages, $24.95
By Sheri-D Wilson Arsenal Pulp, 128 pages, $15.95
When we want to read to satisfy our hunger for marvels, it is time to seek the poets who revel in the art of highly brocaded self-mythology. Two luxurious books fit here: Sheri-D Wilson's Between Lovers, and Hawksley Workman's Hawksley Burns for Isadora. Both are by poets who wrestle the word onto the page not to let it rest there, but so that it will leap into our bodies.
Hawksley Workman comes to the book side of things from an ongoing and unapologetically wild ride on the international rock-music scene. His persona starts with a pseudonym ("Hawksley" is his mother's maiden name), and many highly polished stories about the adventures of a country boy moving to Toronto. He, or a public version of him, has lived in a closet at a tap-dancing school, barks and growls when he sings lyrics like "I'm jealous of your cigarette and the pleasure that you get from it," and writes breathless entries on his Web site about chocolate.
This sense of focused drama continues seamlessly in Hawksley Burns for Isadora. The letters/prose poems were first published in the classified sections of two Toronto newspapers. Their enigmatic flourishes stand in high contrast to the clipped shorthand of most personal ads. Taste this: "What are these rhythms that infect my hips when I meet you? Hypodermic needles carried by golden beams, filled with animal serum, to land in my thighs." Lines seem to meander, yet they willfully staple capricious images into the emotional drywall: "I dress like a sequined dolphin to fit the change. Learn the prettiest words. Creation pain. Ah, but the suffer gives us something to make pictures of." Workman stains his phrases with Byron, David Bowie, the Surrealists and his own saturated senses. And in this book form, the poems alternate with lush nudes painted by his mother, Beverly Hawksley. Every layer of meaning is sensuous here.
As the love progresses, the poems move from a burning for one individual heart to a yearning for wide, redemptive places. Isadora -- "My lover. My peace. My underwater breath" -- becomes a flexible metaphor for endlessness: "Your light is blinding. . . . Your beauty isn't your longevity. You never end because your beauty blinds the killer." The persona begins to train for thinness, for stillness. The full, luscious love distills itself to "such quiet it could lull a clumsy, ugly world to sleep in its arms." The arc of passion curves away from perception and Workman leaves us at the cusp of spirit.
Sheri-D Wilson, the "Mama of Dada," has built an exuberant reputation as a jazz-drenched, erotic, feminist/feminine writer and action poet. She performs internationally, and boasts an impressive collection of spoken-word CDs and video poems, along with two plays and now four poetry books.
Meant for reading out loud, Between Lovers is full of rhythm and drive. The poems issue from the fictional, but very graphically present, lips of a Surrealist-who-wasn't, one Leticia Knight. She is an unidentified woman in photographs of the Surrealists, now at least 100 years old: "You'll see me there/ . . . I am the unknown woman/ Who made remarkable hats." Knight claims much. She watches Apollinaire yell Surrealism into being; she hobnobs with "Coco before she became Chanel." She makes impossible huge blue hats, hounds clowns and makes love with Cocteau on a heap of pencil boxes. The obsession with sex is of course rampant, but without the dark seams Wilson sometimes rides.
As in a Surrealist painting, objects can appear anywhere at anytime in Wilson's poems. If the reader follows the emotional and acoustic pulses, the psychological links between the images will appear. In one poem, Tower Drome, Wilson traces those links and imagines a Ladislav Guderna painting as it falls with the exploding Twin Towers in New York City. As she watches reality split and layer upon itself, she brings back to mind the original use of the word "sur-real," one reality on top of another. She handles the serious subject matter deftly, balancing rage and compassion.
Because vintage Wilson has taught us that her poetry is part self-confessional, Leticia Knight fascinates and fabricates and also vanishes. The speaker who crosses race lines in the linked South Africa poems fits closely with several voices and physical selves Wilson has written before. In Face of Freedom, a wrenching, tender poem about the hard politics of Israel and Palestine, the speaker is a "Poet from Canada," and it seems ridiculous to force the narrative into a fictionalized mouth. The Knight persona works best when she is an "everywoman," and then, watch out: Paris and Alberta and even The Blue Balls of God fight for her eyes.
Hawksley Burns for Isadora and Between Lovers adamantly promote pleasure and sensuality, and it is a delight to be seduced by such skillful weavers of spectacle. Magic and wit infect the mind after these books are put down, and as we open to laughter, we also open to the jolts of insight that shoot through their pages. Meg Walker is a writer and painter living in Winnipeg.