Poetry zine, rob mclennan (editor), issue 1, above/ground press,touchthedonkey.blogspot.ca, $6
A minor naming misadventure happened here. Series curator rob mclennan mentioned in an essay on the Open Book Ontario site that Touch the Donkey earned its name from a game that comedian Fred Armisen invented during an improv routine with Seth Meyers. That game was actually called “Chase the Donkey”. Not an auspicious start, but the contributions mclennan solicited more than make up for the naming foible.
Touch the Donkey, says mclennan, is an attempt “to engage with more experimental and avant-garde poetry.” Nine poets (mclennan included) are represented in this first issue, and styles range from numbered sequences to sonnets (the latter not exactly avant-garde), with several prose poems in between. There’s also an online supplement where mclennan interviews the contributors.
The aforementioned sonnets aside — they’re expertly crafted by Camille Martin — several lucid and honest prose entries stand out, in this collection. Across two verses, Hailey Higdon discusses how she has “come to an agreement” with her dog regarding its need to be walked and her reluctance to participate, as she suffers through anxiety (or perhaps agoraphobia). In “Distraction,” Norma Cole examines a variety of memories that hint at the power of silence and absence, and the creativity born from incomplete knowledge.
There’s a consistently bleak — yet oddly gratifying — atmosphere surrounding the majority of these works. Pattie McCarthy sums it up in a way that’s both enigmatic and pitiable, in one of several poems titled “wifthing” (which deal with the history of the wife): “the shape of my midlife crisis is daniel radcliffe.” (Scott Bryson)