Phil Hall, An Oak Hunch, Brick Books, 2005
Marlene Cookshaw, Lunar Drift, Brick Books, 2005
An Oak Hunch, Phil Hall’s ninth book of poetry (and his fifth with the venerable and venerated Brick Books) was short listed for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize in 2005. The book title, in which the vernacular ‘hunch’ is used in a somewhat mystifying idiomatic locution (is the oak hunched? Do oaks get hunches? Is an oak hunch one that’s very, very strong?), is indicative of Hall’s method in this book. Hall’s often jocular, folksy tone suggests an intimacy with readers, while his scattered syntax and structure fend them off and/ or challenge them. The book is comprised of five sections, each a poem sequence: ‘The Interview’ in which a woman recounts a shooting; ‘An Oak Hunch: Essay on Purdy,” an homage to the iconic Al’; ‘Muched Rushes,’ a somewhat confessional contemplation of domestic love; “Gank Pluck,’ an equally confessional contemplation on illness and inspiration (perhaps); and, finally ‘Index of First Lines,’ in which Hall ‘boils up’ first lines from his earlier books.
The back cover copy refers to Hall’s ‘colonizing forms not often associated with poetry.’ Hall’s section titles, with their assertion of other-than-poetic genres, his use of the sequence poem itself, the extratextual references in the ‘nodes,’ the little biographies that follow each section, as well the author notes at the end of the book, all insist that the poem cannot be taken as a stand-alone, discrete literary entity. In this book, the poem is presented not as an unconstructed artifact, nor as divinely inspired product, but instead as a process of language which interacts with other forms of language. Hall’s contention that the poem must be considered a more fluid, open entity that is as much process as product situates the reader differently toward the text than other, more conventional poetry. The relationship is more complex, and thus the reader is more actively engaged. The final section of the book’s proposal that a poem can be derived from combining lines from other, earlier poems are particularly interesting –what poet hasn’t felt at some point they’ve been writing one damn poem all along? Why not mix it up?