Chapbook, Jill Mandrake, Vancouver Desktop, $5
Memories are often hazy, indistinct ghosts hinging on one or two sensory details: the taste of the wine, the smell of the street, the tone of her voice. 78 by Jill Mandrake purports to be a poetic exploration of the author’s experiences in the year 1978. Instead of spelling it out and telling us what happens, Mandrake highlights only one or two small details per poem. Her memories are arranged in concrete formations. Unfortunately, the concrete is often too opaque and the reader has no way to see beyond the sparse details given. As such, it’s very difficult to get along with this work.
1978 seems like a mythical year – I just wish Mandrake would tell us more about what went down. There is a poem in the shape of a guitar, a poem about firecrackers fizzling out, a list detailing all the things you can buy or sell at a pawn shop, and a joke about Bela Lugosi formed in the shape of a cross. The poems work well on the page but to speak them is a letdown. “Whoa! Hey, stop. / Hey, stop. / Whoa! / Hey, / stop / . / Whoa! Stop / Whoa! Hey, / stop. Whoa! Hey, / stop. Hey, / Whoa / ! / Stop.” There is some level of concept at work here, but again it is very hard to get at, very hard to imagine what these poems are actually about.
In the author’s note, the pieces are referred to as “typewriter poems” and I can’t help but think that her formal experiments would work better if done on an actual typewriter, instead of clean and cliché Courier New font. But maybe that’s me being nostalgic for a time I never knew. The final poem of the collection is the only piece that, in my opinion, is successful in conveying the wistful longing that Mandrake is drawing from: “overflowing ashtrays / boxes of Peek Freans / bachin’ it in Flin Flon / two unhappy teens.”
78 is a short chapbook that speaks to our pining for days gone past. But like the continuous reliving and replaying one’s old memories at the expense of the present, the experience is just a touch sentimental and tad dissatisfying. (Neal Armstrong)