Reviews: Jay Winston Ritchie and Ali Pinkney

Ali Pinkney's Tampion

Ali Pinkney’s Tampion

The Résonance Reading Series has been running for over a year now and boasts an ever-expanding array of readers, both young upcoming and established. Recently I realized how many book launches I’ve attended of local writers who performed at Résonance before. In the spirit of support and pride, I’ve decided to write one-paragraph reviews of as many of these books as possible.

By Klara du Plessis

 

Ritchie, Jay Winston. How to appear perfectly indifferent while crying on the inside. Montreal: METATRON, 2014.

When Ritchie writes, “All of these things are true/ I am a confessional poet” (26), one is tempted not/to believe him. On the one hand, some of Ritchie’s strongest poems read as a roman-à-clef. For those in the know, real-life persons and scenarios are transposed to the page. Local writers make humorous cameo appearances; “Laura Broadbent” is identified by name; Jon Paul Fiorentino Tweets with his alias “@stripmaller” (12). Montreal neighborhoods, restaurants, newspapers are referenced to create a stage so familiar that everything that happens in the poems must assumedly be true, based on experience or emotions endured. The local reader can recognize and sympathize with poetic scenarios. On the other hand, Ritchie’s consistent ironic tone tends to negate any statement he makes, suggesting that what he professes to confess should not be taken at face value. Ritchie’s style of irony imbues the simplest phrase with layers of potential meaning hidden beyond the first level, beyond explicit interpretation. When Ritchie writes in “Home for Christmas (22 years old)” that “I eat Tofurkey/ and watch Netflix/ running my fingers/ through my hair/ like Pocahontas” (27), the statement itself might be based on experience, lying at home consuming processed soy. Yet the lines’ cultural referents serve to destabilize the actions described. Does eating Tofurkey instead of turkey mean the poetic speaker follows a vegan diet? Does the chilling image of prepackaged food from the fridge question the traditional warmth of festive family time? Does Tofurkey include the onomatopoeic to-fuck-you, as the speaker flicks his hair with the gesture of a Disney princess? Allusions to contemporary culture pervade How to appear perfectly indifferent while crying on the inside. Ritchie manipulates these allusions to become the very voice with which his poems speak. “Fructis 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner” is the vehicle to express body image insecurity (25). Sparrows bathing outside “Second Cup” is the pinnacle of urban lyricism (43). The internalization of cultural references suggests that, although not a confessional writer in a John Berryman kind of way, Ritchie is a confessional writer for society itself.

How to Appear Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside by Jay Winston Ritchie

How to Appear Perfectly Indifferent While Crying on the Inside by Jay Winston Ritchie

Pinkney, Ali. Tampion. Montreal: METATRON, 2014.

The dictionary defines Tampion as the stopper for a gun. And although the frenetic style of Ali Pinkney’s chapbook shouldn’t be restrained, the title does serve as a safety catch to contain her poems. Death and how to eclipse it, is a game Pinkney plays. In “Hier soir,” when Baby asks the poetic speaker, “People don’t die, right?” she is assured “No” (54). “Dialogue 2” is stylized as a Ouija board dialogue:

Emma:          What will I be when I grow up?

X:                  G-A-Y

Emma:           Who is my best friend?

X:                   D-A-D

Emma:           When will I die?

X:                    T-I-M-E

Emma:            How will I die?

X:                     A-K-4-7                                                            (19)

Apart from the obviously morbid content, there is a concurrent, implicit levity to the board game, pseudo-spirit-world setting. The gravity of death is literally broken down into separate characters, dissolving the coherence of meaning.

A:                   Why are you near?

X:                    You made me.

 

E:                    Did we create you?

X:                    Yes.                                                              (“Dialogue 1, 14, 16)

Further the Ouija game of spelling words out, focuses attention on writing as a craft. And in turn, this self-referentiality adds vitality to the poems. Writing becomes creation. Creation is life. You should see Pinkney on stage, she resuscitates words through performance.

Both Ritchie and Pinkney’s chapbooks were published by METATRON, a Montreal-based collective of writers, artists, and musicians. Check out the new website for other titles and upcoming events.