Book Roundup

Basically an old hippie from Halifax, Nova Scotia, this poet has struggled fervently for 57 years against a cruel "influenza of logik," which he defines in semi-existential terms as big religion, big money, and the kind of big ego/soul-deadening stuff that is draining the "human" out of humanity. He employs a defiant, dadaist medium, one he calls "sound poetree," in his fight against the ubiquitous dystopia of modern society: "sumtimes an angree or betraying subtext evreewher."

His newest collection, th influenza uv logik, is both rant and "raptur," and Bissett's mesmerizing lyrics are most effective when he approximates the narrative grace of the latter. In "Sensa," the poet sits in a London (presumably Ontario) coffee shop with two friends: "remembr jerry falwell needs anothr 2 milyun by th end uv th month or god will take him home me if i dont rais th rent by next week iul b having a length ee talk with my lanlord"--so Bissett and his friends devise an ingenious scheme, a new religion called Sensa, which is part Bob Jones University, part New Age Journal. The poet-evangelist implores his audience to experience the joys and spiritual uplift of Sensa, while also sending in checks for special products like Sensa toilet paper, Sensa "bubbal bath," Sensa Nintendo, and Sensa rings: "THEES RINGS CHANGE COLORS WITH YR SENSA MOODS."

In other poems Bissett rants against NAFTA, corporate greed, and "toxik lakes," yet he consistently confounds politics with philosophical and aesthetic rambling ("th rite wing nevr sleeps ther is no always"). Confounding the reader also seems to be part of the platform here, as both style and substance collude to give meaning to an ever-occurring phrase: "blurring 2 survive." However interesting this may be philosophically, Bissett's poetry is at its best in the "raptur" of storytelling, whether satirical or not; he ascribes the everyday life of the human soul with a Camus-like power of individuality, and transforms ennui into the stuff of "magikul times." (Paul Bennett)

Erik Belgum

Star Fiction

Detour Press

THERE'S BEEN A rash of intolerance among critics lately toward experimental and avant-garde writing. In most cases it's justified: After all, the problem with artists who break all the rules is that you generally can't count on them to create and follow any standards. Therefore, any hack can mount a urinal on plywood and call it art. Or cut up the Yellow Pages and call it a novel.

That said, I've never seen an exception as bold and striking as Erik Belgum. He's been writing a fierce brand of experimental fiction for several years, right here in our own backyard. "The Man Who Could Talk," a manuscript from this Minneapolis writer and sound designer, has been getting a lot of attention in underground circles for its innovative language and structure. More important, it's a damn funny story that couldn't be told any other way. Spinning language like a stainless-steel triple-loader, Belgum may break other people's rules, but he follows his own with a discipline any mother would be proud of.

Now comes Star Fiction, Belgum's first collection with Detour Press. A blunderbuss of storytelling, it showcases the author's wicked sense of humor, his facility with language, and his ability to juggle Hegelian philosophy and gratuitous violence with one hand. In the title selection, Belgum destroys any preconceptions you might have had about your reader/writer relationship with him. He's a literary trickster of the highest order, presenting short stories, providing his own absurd analyses, and pausing for brief intermissions of self doubt. He's conducting his own creative writing seminar, and frankly he doesn't want your misinformed opinion.

Where "Star Fiction" subverts narrative voice, "Blodder," the book's second half, consists of a chain of related stories with fractured chronologies and confused characters. You might call it hyperrealism, since the plot--which reads like a mixed-up police dossier on an armed robbery and several subsequent accidents--runs willy-nilly through some pretty gruesome territory, covering a wide range of true and false perspectives on trauma and crisis.

When Belgum decides to throw in the experimental towel and follow someone else's rules, he'll surely kick butt with the best writers of our time. On the other hand, maybe the best writers of our time will say "uncle" first. (Hans Eisenbeis)

Kate Phillips

White Rabbit

Houghton Mifflin

IN THE LAST hours of our lives on Earth, what thoughts and memories will traipse through our minds? Will we know, beforehand, when our time is up? Kate Phillips's finely crafted first novel places these questions and others before the reader with charm and wit, and answers them with a surprising hint of hope. Ruth Caster Hubble is the whimsical, opinionated 88-year-old woman whose final day on Earth White Rabbit chronicles.

Her reality is a disorderly place layered with daydreams, flashbacks, and thoughts that "rattle around like coins in a large dark piggy bank"; it's a place in which her body has forsaken her, her true love has perished, and the world has lost all sense of traditional propriety. In dreamy scenes peppered with hints of Lewis Carroll, Ruth hears chuckling voices, and watches as a white rabbit and other visions mysteriously taunt her. The author, meanwhile, deftly leads us among Ruth's altered states.

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