by Fred Johnston

Predicting The Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using A Potentially Dangerous Method  by Daniel Scott Tysdal (Couteau Books, 2006)

Living in Ireland, one is accustomed to conventional and conservative poetry. No boat-rocking. Nothing intended to disturb, upset, or challenge the cultural status quo. Those few poets who have differed in style and approach have either left the country or work towards publication in tiny presses and esoteric magazines. There are cliques here, power-surges, poetic protectorates: but there is little or no experimentation, no moving outside the predictable and predicted creative ideologies. So conservative and safe has Irish poetry become that in recent years politicians and even Irish Presidents have quoted from it publicly. That’s not healthy. Poetry in Ireland is Establishment. Or it is despised.


           So when an Irish critic is confronted by Daniel Scott Tysdal’s anarchic and provocative work, a cross between venerable French Surrealism and modern computerised imagery, between poetry and conversation, art and school-room jottings, there are initially mixed reactions. What precisely has Tysdal created here? Perhaps if this critic had lived longer in Canada - I left when I was seven - I too would write like Tysdal.


The first thing any critic must do is ignore the blurbs on the jacket. They will always praise and never criticise, so they will never show balance. They are not intended to. Tysdal, born in Moose Jaw, works there as a bartender. Good. Every poet should have a day-job. It keeps him grounded in real life. What Tysdal seems to have attempted is a synchronisation between glimpsed everyday occurrence and the creative imagination; life as haiku?  His titles are invitations to indulge in a creative clowning coupled with serious bending of imagination: “Zombies: A Catalogue of Their Return;” “Lyrics from the Unreleased Emo Album Written for our Conversation Today;” “How We Know We Are Being Addressed by the Man Who Shot Himself Online” - this last item is a curious but mesmerising sequential mix of what appears to be tiny pictures of a man in a holding-cell shooting himself, in which the apparent suicide - how does one differentiate fact from fiction, especially online - addresses his audience. Disturbing, certainly, but as seductive as a train-wreck.  Tysdal makes us look, and consequently makes us read.


“A man walks into a room with a gun in his belt. A

 man with a gun in his belt takes one last drink of


 water. A man with a gun might wonder which far

 off glacier that water was rescued from . . . “


                                                      -  III.How


                This sort of thing is adventurous in a black sense and makes us think; what is the relation among the man, the film, and Tysdal’s imagining of it all through commentative poetry? There is something slightly obscene about one’s uncertainty as to whether the images are real. These days constant media bombardment of scenes of violence has done odd and not-nice things to our ways of perception and to our reactions.

                There are longer prose pieces which smack of self-indulgence. At the risk of seeming patronising, one should say that younger poets do this sort of thing and grow out of it if they are any good. “T-SHIRTS OR TOYS: CRIB NOTES FOR A ONE-YEAR-OLD-NEPHEW, OR UPON PLAYING WITH JUDE AND TRYING TO AVOID ANOTHER ANXIETY ATTACK.” (the upper-casing here tends to shout) is in fact a rather beautiful examination of the poet’s own vulnerability, a poetical meditation on death and its inevitability a good measure beyond what we all used to think in the days when we carried Sartre in our jeans’ back-pocket; no, this is good writing, gracious, feeling, tender, understated:


And who cares if lesson one is what the poet said about that something that with each of us will die? Who cares whether with you and me that something will be the heat from this fireplace, the snapping timber against flame, or what, while holding up the ball, you said in syllables that together just don’t work?  


           Against this is the under-graduate lament of ‘Cohen,’ written to guess who, kicking off with the forgettable lines: “Leonard I'm selling everything I think about the CBC. / Leonard July 27, 2003, and my student loans are still unpaid . . .” The rest is too insular, self-relative, to mean much to anyone who wasn’t there, so to speak, and doesn’t transcend the author or Canada, for that matter as good poetry should. “Ghosts,” on the other hand, is pure experiment, an exercise in pushing the reader into the wall of his own ignorance, in a sense, inviting participation another poem asks for a folding-over of pages in the sorting out of meaning and adherence to form. Arrows indicate, or seem to, points of joining of one piece to another. Tysdal would be an exciting chap to hear in a workshop. He’d have, for formalists, a lot of explaining to do; but nonetheless the effort at working through, and with, Tysdal’s writing is rewarding. He makes us think about what we read and how we read it. And that alone makes this extraordinary book worth buying.

Fred Johnston was born in Belfast in 1951 and spent the first seven years of his life in Toronto, Canada. He has published poetry in Canada a variety of magazines. His latest novel is set in Paris, The Neon Rose; a new collection of poetry, The Oracle Room, appears in the UK from Cinnamon Press next month. He is the founder of Galway City’s annual literature festival, Cúirt, and a translator of French poetry. As a reviewer, he has written for Harpers & Queen, the Sunday Times, the Irish Times and Books Ireland.

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