‘The Perfect Archive’ is a perfect trip

The Perfect Archive

Paul Lisson, 98 pgs, Guernica Editions, guernicaeditions.com, $20

The word “perfect” is crossed out on the cover of Paul Lisson’s poetry collection, The Perfect Archive. And I am the perfect reader if, again, the word is crossed out. Like Lisson, I’m a librarian (he worked at the Hamilton Public Library for 30+ years).

Conceptually, Lisson seems to be taking a deep dive into the overdetermined world of cataloguing systems, focusing so closely on the specific rules and standards that their supposed order actually becomes chaotic and absurd. (Librarians will relate.)

The narrator seems to be cataloguing his own psychological decline while awaiting trial and execution from some ominous power — the system he has created, perhaps. The reader, too, endures a sense of doom and confusion. Are we supposed to understand what is going on? Should we be frightened?

The Perfect Archive is a perfect trip. You have to abandon control — let go of the ordered catalogue of happenings, a structured narrative — and simply enjoy Lisson’s provocative bits: “Doubt implies thought. Thought is prone to disorder,” or “It will require putting bullets through books.”

This book, a capstone of Lisson’s librarianship and writing, is said to be 25 years in the making. He has definitely put a bullet through something, though I’m not entirely sure what.