Jason Christie, Unknown Actor
2013, Insomniac Press, London ON
$16.95, 978-1-55483-101-2, 122 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
…And the Rain Disturbs Our Images
We can’t reconcile with trees.
What then do we need? I mean,
I’m asking you and every
wet sidewalk square, every
damp street light pool
that I’m walking through.
I’m asking the fertile smell
of a rainy spring night in
Vancouver. Lost seawall
circumscribing the ocean,
I’m asking myself, my shell,
the thin jacket I’ve wrapped
tightly around me: How
did it come to this?
Calgary poet Jason Christie’s third trade poetry collection, Unknown Actor (London ON: Insomniac Press, 2013), is made up of a curious series of poetic monologues, quite literally a blending of poetry and monologues, “where poetry meets theatre.” Christie explores the actor as blank slate, composing the mutable, unknown and unnamed actor/narrator in a narrative that begins with a prelude, and dances out upon the stage, and even more behind the curtain. Christie has worked with theatre-as-subject before, and the narratives of his previous trade poetry collection, i-ROBOT (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2006) was even adapted for the stage in 2011. Composing beyond his standard structure of short, accumulative lines, Unknown Actor explores the multiple masks and the blank page through prose poems and shorter lyrics, working through a variety of pop culture film and theatre references, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Weekend at Bernie’s and Richard Burton. Christie explores the structures and movements of film and theatre, from how we watch to what we watch, circling the empty canvas of the “unknown actor,” open for all and any possibility, even to the detriment of what that individual might have once been. The poem “Little Man, What Now?” that opens the second section, “Intermission,” best exemplifies this empty openness, and opens: “I’m an actor with wiry hair and bright green eyes. / I’m an actor growing a moustache to hide a scar on my lip. / I’m an actor with ingrown toenails. / I’m an actor that hates ratatouille.” Constructed in three sections, including an unnamed-first and an “Intermission,” it ends with a coda of sorts, the four-poem “The Richard Burton Section: A Case Study,” including a sequence of poems referencing the classic Faust:
And always new fresh blood.
So it goes. You went mad. Is there air to the water as to the earth?
A thousand germs are in the drying moist warm cold.
If I had not reserved the flame, I had nothing.
Apart is my fist, it is understood that you are eternal. The
salutary creative power is the cold devil’s first clenched
against treacherous vanity.
What else, looking at the beginning of chaos, strange son, do
We want to remember the next few times, more of it this one,
I probably remove myself, thirsty.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). The Uncertainty Principle: stories, is scheduled to appear in spring 2014. An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com