Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Recent Reads: "The Sourdough Collaborations" by Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie

The Sourdough Collaborations by Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie
Published by Phafours Press, 2015.

The Sourdough Collaborations is a rare consortium: an exchange between two poets that is chronicled in evolving drafts as well as informal discussion about the applications and results of each approach used. To put it another way, The Sourdough Collaborations is the making of The Sourdough Collaborations. And seeing as how authors Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie have lifted the curtain, explaining their various intuition and internet-based means of manipulating text, I’m essentially writing footnotes on footnotes.

Regardless, I felt like a participant in the chapbook’s playful abandon. Whether they’re putting a poem through a series of translations (in one case: Spanish to Catalan to English to Klingon to French then back to English), riffing on the outcome or each other’s interpretation, Prevost and Pirie share an unguarded willingness to chase fresh writing. To give a broad idea of their interchange, here’s a poem undertaken by Pirie:

(Note: Although it’s customary to share a few excerpts, I must preface to remind that very satisfying context surrounds the creation of these poems. Seek out a copy here.) 


sweet chap of bubble-language, nothing else
is in this (refillable) glass but us.

past refracted alfalfa fields, their roots like turnips
we 6 gaze, nod as seahorse steeds

ledge of seashells are Christian bystanders
in 2 hour litany of k’pows, daddy finger-blams

mangy fox, psycho cow, vagrant bear till Emmy holds up
her teddy, asks, would you shoot this in the bush?

an organ grinder in the gut claps, makes terrible
digestion, a useless sluice of gastric;

no bite against junkyard violence. us listing
as a group what gives reflux, cukes, orange juice…

the movement of ripples is a wobble in the plans
in the planes, in the planets

not the culpa of our wet earth.
it’s only you and me here; what matters now?

let us have as much compass direction as a rake.
that APB? never mind. self was never lost but a rain walk. 
(Pirie, pg. 16)

And here is Prevost’s response:

our slow liquid

The original bottle of us, filled and capped
permeates our travels

undersea fields of the kelp-woman
as she rides quiescent undertows

thin calcium armors, whose ridges
foretell an upcoming sparagmos

even landlocked prey will plead
with many-faced little-girl gods

what we stomach laughs out loud
weak acid drips harmless off skin

a stack gathers to attack
a lining that shrugs away

shaken by what should stir
the edge curves around the globe

tides, tidings on this stage
this known story still surprises

the map or mapless number
remains one small-big-whole fraction

that walks from and into fog
as enjoyable as ether 
(Prevost, pg. 17)

Despite appearing surgically removed from their authors’ comments, “water-mind” and “our slow liquid” present the core infallibility of this collaborative unit: Prevost and Pirie are keen readers and listeners, capable of shaping one another’s gambits into sturdy morsels worth pulling apart. Though the exercises seem custom-built for Pirie’s elastic dissection of koan and colloquialism, Prevost proves totally up to the challenge, often distilling these ‘bastard ghazals’ to their imagistic potential. Like any thriving partnership, one person’s strengths must balance the other’s. At various points in-between the peaks of exploration and consolidation, the Ottawa-area poets achieve a single, hybridized voice.

It could be said, albeit unfairly, that the procedures and approaches they discuss outshine the poems themselves – but that’s like saying limitless possibility outshines the closure of a finished piece! At one point, Prevost and Pirie realize their exchange could go on forever:

“As in renga, the poetic conversation starts conservative, safe, and gears up. By mid-point it can go wilder as at the height of a party where speech is most loose. More politics or violence or conflict or general chaos can be engaged with. Likewise with this. Once we were comfortable with the back and forth, we could stretch, throw wilder and assume the other could run for it, catch and throw something back.” (pg. 12)

The allure of possibility is magnetic because it’s theoretical. But these poems, often thoughtful, warm and surprising, double as blueprints of choice, using stream-of-consciousness, linguistic and homophonic translation, a bunch of excisions and intuition as ways of keeping options open. Given the imagination on tap for The Sourdough Collaborations, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine these bakers finding their way into the kitchen for a second batch.

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