How to Make an English Exam Interesting
Litzine, Jordan Bolay, The Blasted Tree, theblastedtree.com, $10
Jordan Bolay’s derisively composed glance at the university level English exam — inspecting everything except the test in front of him — is a zine I didn’t realize I needed. Denying a classic structure that undermines student intelligence, quote identification is laid in its flowerless grave. Bolay poses an alternative: to write a poem using sensory content collected from the exam room — by hand.
The exercise of handwriting 50 copies of the same chapbook in an exam booklet is a challenging and somewhat absurd proposition, not to mention the potential for cramped knuckles. Bolay (and any of his helpers) must have truly committed not only to the task but also to the text. Handwriting the same text so many times must uniquely reshape and reimagine the glyphs, syllables, and fragments that make up the content of this chapbook.
Bolay scans the room for the comical meat of poetic supplies: “two blue exam booklets / to blue exam booklet: / I’m sorry this isn’t / a better poem,” reflects the absurdity of the exercise — homophone phrases cannot overcome the lackluster blue book. Similarly, “some War of the Roses reference / we didn’t re-cover Shakespeare / in this class,” alludes to an impish attitude toward the canon of literature.
The height of Bolay’s work comes in his game of jump rope with Žižek, “our objet petit a / our caffeine-free diet coke,” is the integrity bag, a practice that Google tells me the University of Calgary uses to titillate its young.
Everything here is gold. I can feel Bolay’s farcical perspective on academia while he simultaneously works within its ridiculous framework, “a bag of hot air / … assuring everyone and no one.”