Shane Neilson, Ryga (Okanagan College Publications), rygajournal.ca, $5
Shane Neilson, a writer and physician from New Brunswick, is eager to share with his reader an exceptionally precise prescription for poetics. In The Manifesto of Fervourism, Neilson wants desperately to be read as the arbitrator of “poetry written today.” This essay, published by Okanagan College ahead of the writer’s collection On Shaving Off His Face, appears to be trying to offer a miniature guide book to contemporary poetry.
After a number of passes, the essay remains remarkably unironic; Neilson really is attempting to draw a line in imagined sand between “poets and unpoets”. The author expresses a certainty about contemporary poetry’s topography, which he personally finds lacking in emotion and energy. But, fear not, he is here to breath life into poetry, to give all poets permission to write with fervour.
It is difficult to read this essay without feeling a sense of pity for Neilson and his heightened arrogance when he locates his understanding of poetry within the white boys’ club of Eliot, Frost and Wordsworth (all decent authors, but definitely not definitive voices that qualify in any authentic conversation about “poetry today”). It’s unclear if Neilson has spent any time exploring the work of any contemporary poets, given that he is calling for fervour. One need only read Natalie Zina Walschots, Phillip Garcia or Sonya Vatomsky to acknowledge the blood thumping fervour that our poets are harnessing in their deeply passionate and engaging works.
The prose is not without merit and could potentially be a candidate in the non-fiction essay category of “what one particular person thinks about poetry”, but it lacks any sense of realism, understanding or awareness of current trends in poetry. A reader is left wondering if perhaps Neilson is having us all on with this essay. (Lyndsay Kirkham)