Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method
by Daniel Scott Tysdal
Regina: Coteau Books, 2006, ISBN 978-1-55050-350-0, 78 pp., $15.95 paper.

The first thing to strike this reader about Tysdal's first poetry collection is the physical appearance of the vehicle itself: the book's non-standard size, red, black and white in-your-face cover, heavyweight paper, print that exudes the strong chemical smell of a new art book. "Expensive," is the next thought that creeps into my Capricorn mind, followed immediately by a more generous "generous" (with an impossible to repress "why? this is a poetry book, for heaven's sake, not a Ferrari ad") and, maybe the publisher is on to something.

All of this changes yet again once the book is open, to plain jealousy at the sight of the luxurious space in which the poet can wallow to his heart's content, his lines having the freedom to stretch their arms and still not reach the margins that not so much enclose as support and frame them, a penthouse vs the usual modest bachelor suite. Room enough to take on today's complex world.

And that is exactly what Tysdal does. His eyes wide open, he plunges into the culture of instant communication and easy gratification, and dissects it using language both as a tool and the body on the table. His words are as nimble as the fingers of anyone who has grown up with a computer, his images as varied as those that can be accessed on-line. Even though his subjects are weighty--crowd manipulation by the advertising machine, drugs, on-line suicide, on-line pornography, war, environmental destruction--his handling is never heavy-handed.

In "Pictures from Archie: Riverdale, At This Dreary Hour," the innocent characters from Archie comics are taken on a wild ride, where they throw up in a bar washroom, watch porn stars on the Internet, french-kiss, write poetry. In "Faces of Bukkake 6," 47 men are shown masturbating to a video of a naked woman. To give the women back her humanity the poet directs the men's, and our, gaze to the woman's face, even as her body goes through its mechanical motions, even as the poet knows his words will not change this. "Beyond The Private Life of a Fingerprint" is an illustration of how a brief mention of a tragedy in Harper's magazine becomes fodder for writers and artists.

Every poem is written in a style different from the preceding one. This acts on the reader's attention as a friendly pinprick--wake up friend, we are starting from scratch here. The text of "One Way of Shuffling Is Ten Hours into Back-to-Back Sessions Going on Tilt," which takes a look at Genesis, is laid out like cards in a game of poker, to reflect the poet's take on our origins. "'in the /beginning,' / . . . There / were / no / odds stacked / against / any/body. // Every chip / bet / by Adam / brought / the same chip / in return." (24) The layout of the title poem mimics an Internet screen. The poem's text runs down the margins, in small print, while the middle panel contains a jumble of ads and trivia printed in a variety of fonts, which is summarized in the bottom right corner as "All of This Aspires to the Condition of Muzak," printed as musical notation.

An occasional traditional prose poem weaves its way into this riotous collection. Visual images are intertwined with the text. The most moving example of the last is "Missing,"a poem inspired by posters of missing children. The black-and-white photo of a boy and the text broken into rectangles the size of the photo work together to produce a heart-breaking whole. "The Poster . . . a reverse piper / calling / them closer / but not / all the way / home." (74) The most horrifying intermingling of text with visuals occurs in "How We Know We Are Being Addressed by the Man Who Shot Himself Online."

The pace of Tysdale's poetry is quick, his tongue witty and well-informed, his style a mixture of playfulness and irony--the titles of most of the poems are as long as the book's title--and dead seriousness. You will find no rants, and no easy answers in this collection, even when great minds of the past are consulted. What you will find is one carefully crafted and intellectually stimulating question after another. The future of the poet's one-year-old nephew is at stake here. (27)

If all this sounds like a Ferrari ad, let me quickly add that I didn't care very much for "Cohen." It had the feel of an oral piece written to please a crowd. But I suspect this will not slow down the book's, or Tysdal's, progress.

Anna Mioduchowska is a poet, translator, and author of stories, essays and book reviews. Her most recent work appears in: Edmonton on Location, River City Chronicles (NeWest), Writing the Terrain, a poetry anthology (U of Calgary Press), and Dance the Guns to Silence: 100 poems for Ken Saro Wiwa (Flipped Eye Publishing, London, England). Her collection of poetry, In-Between Season, was published by Rowan Books.

Buy this book at McNally-Robinson Booksellers.

Back to Reviews Index