Articles & Reviews

A Real Good Goosin': Montreal's Vehicule poets celebrate life, and sometimes poetry

Preface by Artie Gold
Maker Press, 94 pp, $4.00

Special to The Gazette
February 16, 1980

The extraordinary poetry scene in Montreal is so complex and confused today that the average reader has little chance of seeing the light in the galactic cloud. This little book of terrific and terrible poetry will only illustrate the problem, on the English side.

"Montreal is a real hot-bed of poetry," says Tom Konyves (the man who got poetry into the buses); but at the same time nobody reads or understands the stuff (see Patrick Barnard's write-up on poetry in the buses, Gazette, Feb. 2).

The so-called "Vehicule Poets" are the seven whose faces shine on the front and back covers of this book. They make no claim to being a school, but they have a lot in common. And they've been tremendously active — 33 separate books so far, and entries in 12 different anthologies; plus performances, videopoems and other periphera.

As you read them, you have to become accustomed to such things as "this desperacy ,.." "sort of as a replacement..." "I don't somehow feel..." "fell in immediate love .. ". Sometimes it's deliberate bathos: "I feel the night of a thousand clams." And sometimes it makes the record, as Artie Gold does for the longest split infinitive: "to mysteriously over fifty years lose Its potency."

However, all this has a purpose or meaning, believe it or not. As the picture on the cover tells you, there is immense joy of life in these performances, and it is perhaps on behalf of life rather than of 'immortal poetry' that the poems are cast. Since life today does need "a real good goosin'" as Allen Ginsberg sometime somewhere said no doubt, the risk is worth taking of sacrificing a little immortality for a temporary resurrection in the life here-and-now.

"An intentionally rough, smudged, improvised quality, calculated to produce an unruly effect," writes Norman Snider on the painting of Larry Rivers & Co. in the Globe and Mail (Feb. 2). These terms apply perfectly to our Vehicule poets. Also the observation that "some people find the style sloppy, others find it exhilarating ..."

What Is on the boards (and the buses) is no less than "a whole culture busting loose," a catharsis of values, an aesthetic revolution.

The most incoherent and inchoate of these poets stand at the front of the book, Endre Farkas, Artie Gold, Tom Konyves, Claudia Lapp. Konyves, the ringleader, is the most avant-gardist, Dadaist, surrealist, multi-media-prone. You must put your reason and sanity aside to read him. Artie Gold is the Tristan Corbiere of the group, a wandering clochard, bohemian, mournful minstrel. On Endre Farkas my comment is "Too loose, Lautrec" — but he can be very funny (see his poem for Ken Norris) and he does have a fine artistic sense. Claudia Lapp is the mystical good-fairy of the group, full of Jungian dreams and pixyish ecstacies.

But then in the second half of the book you come to some very impressive suggestions of poetry. Stephen Morrissey's "Divisions" is one of the most moving confessional poems I know. Ken Norris, author of the current Book of Fall and of The Perfect Accident (1978), writes some of the best poetry in Canada today (try the "Rene Char" poem from the book). And JohnMcAuley is a brilliant experimentalist and wit.

Put them all together, and you have The Vehicule Poets, a branch of Montreal poetry to puzzle the mono-phones of Canada. As Edwin Arlington Robinson said when he heard Walt Whitman read aloud, "If thatÕs not poetry, it is something greater than poetry."

Yes. It is life.

Louis Dudek is the well-known Montreal poet and critic.

Copyright © 2007 The author