n April 18, I attended the launch of Judy MacInnes Jr.'s debut collection of poetry Snatch at the DV8 in Vancouver. Electronica was playing, the crowd, mostly young and energetic, packed the place immovable. I bought the collection and was instantly impressed with how her publisher, Anvil Press, has packaged it: this was not your average poetry book. The shape and cover looks like a British Import CD, the font bright and modern, and a 12 poem CD was included. When Judy stepped up to the mic and began her thank-yous, naming all her pets, and the pets of friends and family, I became skeptical. Sure the packaging is slick and sexy, but you know what they say about covers...
Reading the first stanza of the opening poem, Horizontal Iceberg, erased all suspicions:
Two nights ago I skated
the Beaufort Sea, hunting
for the perfect vagina
in ice. A hole so diamond
cut and cold, its insides
furnished with saws, it could easily
divide an innocent man
in half. Like magic, icebergs
swelled and when I woke up
I hated poetry.
Yes, I thought, I am going like this. I have read it three times in as many days. MacInnes Jr's language has both clarity and complexity. She tells snatches of stories that on the surface may appear anecdotal, but are compelling and significant, often simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. While much of her poetry is about growing up and falling in love, it never slips into sentimentality or nostalgia.
Although poetry is historically an oral medium, I find most readings verge on unbearable. Little has changed since the Beat Poets, with the strange affected reading voice, odd mannerism and pauses, and generally it is even worse with music. (Recall the "Wo-man" scene in So I Married an Axe Murder, but without the irony.) With this prejudice, I played the accompanying CD, a 20 minute Snatch sampler, with apprehension. Again, I was impressed; the CD is about the poetry, not the poet. Each poem has its own distinct soundscape, and are not simply read, but performed. MacInnes Jr. is only on three of the twelve tracks, with actors and other artists featured on the remainder. One of my favourite poems from the collection, Troll, is performed immaculately by Dawn Petton as if it were an instructional film from the fifties.
I love Snatch. It may not be perfect, some of the poems are much weaker than the others, but as a whole it is an impressive debut collection. It is exciting, fresh, perceptive; a complete package that will help bring Canadian poetry into the 21st century. Congratulations, Judy MacInnes Jr., I can't wait to read what you come up with next.
published by anvil press