Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Reader's Diary #890- Reneltta Arluk: Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies


When I saw how the good folks at CBC had divided up the country for this year's Canada Reads competition, I was at first disappointed to see how the North was handled. The Yukon was lumped in with British Columbia, while Nunavut and the Northwest Territories had to share with all three prairie provinces. It's now whittled down to the top 5 books from each region, leaving only Ivan E. Coyote to represent the Yukon, Elizabeth Hay to represent the Northwest Territories and no one for Nunavut. I still think they could have combined the territories into one Northern choice, but if I'm being honest it really would have been slim pickings. Not that the writing we get here isn't good, we just don't get a lot of writing! What we do get is mostly of the nonfiction variety and therefore would have been ineligible for this year's Canada Reads anyway.

So, when someone like Northwest Territories-born Reneltta Arluk comes along with a new book, a book of poetry no less, I get excited. I want to like it. I want to praise it from the high heavens. But about half way through Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies I finally conceded that I wasn't enjoying it, no matter how much I tried.

I like free form verse as much as I like form poetry, but I don't happen to believe no thought should go into the arrangement. With a few exceptions, the poems in Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies appear to be random thoughts and observations with a "poetic looking" approach to line breaks and punctuation. In Arluk's poetry there seems to be a lot of self-indulgence and pretension. She throws everything at the wall and tells us it has stuck. Sort of a Jackson Pollock approach to poetry? The problem is, we're never shown the wall and I'm not sure there's anything there. Worse than not putting much thought into the arrangement, I'm not convinced Arluk had a clear message in mind herself. That sounds profound, let them decide what it means. I believe readers, especially readers of poetry, should put some effort into it. Maybe we won't always come up with the same message as each other, or as the poet intended, but we should be able to arrive at something. And something specific. Otherwise, we'll just decipher our own thoughts.

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