by Andy McGuire
In the lead-up to the International Festival of Authors events in Thunder Bay, I decided to take it upon myself to read something by each of the participating authors. While I have enjoyed past events, I figured this would give me a bit more background so that I can get more out of them. (And, you know, having already read We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones, I only had three books to get through. No biggie.) The readings and talks have come and gone, so now I might as well post some reviews.
The first post-Amy Jones book I sampled was McGuire’s Country Club, one of two books of poetry showcased at this year’s IFOA in Thunder Bay. I honestly struggled a bit with this one. While McGuire, like me, appears to enjoy non-traditional rhyme schemes, I tend to appreciate such a thing more when it flows well, mimicking natural speech. If this can’t be achieved, it works to the detriment of the poetry, or at least the detriment of my feelings toward it. That said, where some poetry worsens when read aloud––Douglas Livingston comes to mind here, where I love his written word but have great difficulties following the poems when spoken––McGuire’s work improves quite a bit when he reads it. Perhaps it had to do somewhat with the intonation and flow of the reading or the context the author gave for the poems before jumping in to them, but I think a lot of it had to do with the energy and laughter of the audience. This could be felt both when a clever line was delivered––read in a deadpan tone in each instance––or the outright absurdity of a poem like “Independence Day,” where he basically reads a list of various preserves.
I’m also quite impressed with McGuire’s imagery throughout the collection. Along with specific techniques employed––such as writing in the accent of the “man from Bombay” in the poem “Pool”––he comes so close to effectively painting a picture and taking us there, but I kept getting pulled out of the moment by rhymes that felt forced. The further from this McGuire moved, the more natural his verse became, the more enjoyable things became, to an extent with “Butchers Holler,” but extensively with my favourite poem in his book, “Toronto.” I believe that a great deal of my love for the latter poem has a lot to do with how honest and open it feels. Perhaps this is due to the change in style, or perhaps it’s more because I can see myself in the poem. (If so, that’s at least a little depressing.) No matter the reason, it worked.
When it all came together, I could see the good in Country Club, but I don’t think it was written with someone like me in mind, as I came to prefer the exception rather than the rule. However, even if I’m not painting McGuire’s collection with the most appealing brush, I whole-heartedly recommend listening to him read if you ever get the chance; I’d go so far to say that you’ll find it hard to find another poetry reading that’s quite as fun.