Nicole Markotić. Bent at the Spine (BookThug 2012).

This five part volume of marvelously warped textuality announces its devious pleasures on its stunning front cover, by Kate Hargreaves, based on a Sarah Mitchell handmade book. Markotić offers her readers the pleasures of non sequitur, the fragments gathered hither & yon that ruin conventional reading protocols, & the on-going delights of playful sounding. And, in many ways, she begins with the toughest, strangest stuff in ‘Big Vocabulary,’ inviting us to ‘Link the vast grammar quirk’ (unpunctuated, of course), & ‘Couples,’ which can be read as even-more-than-usually-disjunctive ghazals.

Great good humour careers across these poems (prose & free verse). Pronouns promiscuously promulgate an other way of representation throughout: none can be trusted, all must be assumed as carefully constructed escape artists: ‘Make me a match, match me a flare, catch me a fine, mislay the misaligned.’

Each of the ‘Couples’ depends from a title as obscure as what follows; they ask us to read through but the links are deceptive, & each couplet stands alone:


lute terror brings pneumatic ringside autobiographies
lust tends to automatically jump-start inside 50s cars

far-away and long aghast, treat me
to a far cry from ghosts and team songs

double sneezes rhyme with the echo onscreen
doubt me not or I’ll tease your rhizomes, just so

walking can twist an arm or a neck
kings witness more armies than weeks

Fred’s ing witlessly tweaks
fried wings with one fewer film to lengthen the eek

The poet (that author-manqué) does occasionally put in an appearance (apparently), here with that reference to Fred Wah, a fellow practitioner of a fake-ing poetics. But the general pleasure here is very much in the Steinian mode, ruptured, the syntax insisting on a meaning ever just out of reach.

Throughout puns proliferate (& I suspect more are hidden & oblique than makes themselves obvious): again, a comic pleasure principle working through a definitely material textuality. Each piece in the long ‘Widows & Orphans’ takes off from a quotation (real or imagined), but these prose poems refuse to connect anything easily, language itself presented as widowed & orphaned. Tone & development shift around; nothing is secure. So, in ‘”Invalidate the invalid”’ there’s a slippery ‘you’:

hearts lock. kill time between interrupted horseshoes
and red toboggans. so if you believe in voting you believe
Xs fit into boxes. subtract the sandwiches

slow down you smooch too fast

but the text gives equal opportunity to all pronouns: let them dance a crazy quadrille.

Oddly, things get easier to decipher, it seems, deeper into the book (or has it just helped us adjust?). as the title poem of ‘Bad Blood’ puts it:

forget the teller. forget

the drip-drip congeal of his-her-them-mine
that ends the end of the arterial loop

ain’t now

But the text wont allow us to forget: ‘yes, word-play still continues, yes yet’ & a larger play with personae in the final section, ‘Guests,’ where (we can say that) Markotić takes on the writing character of a number of other Canadian poets, with all of whom she shares that innovative desire. The pieces for Bowering, Kroetsch, Thesen, Holbrook, Miki, Cooley, Wah, Marlatt, Moure, Webb, Christakos, Brand, & Waddington wittily & seriously parody their work as homage, & bring this exhilarating volume to a happy close.

Bent at the Spine asks a lot of its readers (& I don’t pretend to have even begun to unravel all its delightful complexities) but it gives a lot in return – that pleasure of the text in heightened form most of all. That gorgeous cover promises much & Bent at the Spine delivers.

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