Chapbook Review: Conditional

Chapbook, Andrew McEwan, JackPine Press,, $15

It’s hard to tell if this chapbook is more poetry or collage. Its design suggests the latter, though approaching it as a collage doesn’t add much value beyond the text that’s present.

Every second page in Conditional is translucent. In the first of the two long poems that appear here, the text on those see-through pages is aligned so that it falls between the lines on the following page. In the collection’s second poem, the text on the translucent pages is positioned to fall between header and footer text on the subsequent page. In the first case, it’s text from weather reports interrupting Andrew McEwan’s verse. In the second case, McEwan’s poetry is falling between lines from product return policies.

In this format, reading between the lines becomes a literal enterprise, and — one would assume — should reveal a deeper message than an individual page would on its own. Just what that message is isn’t especially clear. A description on the JackPine Press site suggests that this layering was done “in order to map the persistent anxieties we all feel.”

It seems part of McEwan’s aim is to interrupt flow — to keep the reader from becoming too placid. The borrowed text that overlaps McEwan’s writing insists that it be read; its presence can’t be ignored. It’s like having to stop and read footnotes in an essay.

McEwan’s poems, on their own, are insightful and enigmatic. Perhaps the best way to approach this — at least at first — is to forget about the overlapping text; the format distracts from the content. (Scott Bryson)