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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Critiques and Reviews
Michael Andre's Experiments in Banal Living
by Vyt Bakaitis

Michael Andre
Experiments in Banal Living
Empyreal Press, Montreal

[ P.O. Box 1746 Place du Parc, Montreal Quebec, Canada H2W 2R7 ].

Is there still hope for someone who can declare: "the world's a net: / you jump from buildings"? You bet, for the reader in being thus set up to take the fall still gets to react with a virtual gasp of anticipation, even at a psychic crisis so squarely forced, so metaphorically offset, and even though it's only in a poem (prompted by New Orleans no less, a city famous for trading on its "easy" living) that this quirky gist occurs, maybe even in spite of the fact that the lines close the poem, with no further stated assurance of anyone's immediate survival.
     "No one controls anyone, self included, / you could say if you wanted to relax." No less radically subversive is the punning in this metaphysic, with a Yeatsian shudder at "mere anarchy" to be discerned in the implicit forecast. That's why you can never just settle into a poem of Michael Andre's and expect to stay at ease there, and so each poem in the book bravely and nimbly sets out to show just how one mind works within the field of endless distraction that constitutes the known world. And while you sense a reassurance that nothing will be overlooked, you may be surprised at the poet's peculiar, nit-picking turns: "... shaving remains // the best time for looking in a mirror."
     Hauteur clings to pedigree; that is to say (as one might be inclined to defer to royal presumption of any order as a given, basic as tit for tat) his idiosyncratic mind holds to a line of descent. As advertised here, it is comedic: wry North American Anglo, neatly discombobulated postmodern, as a weird, late Canadian offshoot wired to an artless New England vernacular stemming from Wallace Stevens via Robert Creeley. It is the mind kept from a stock unravelling, therefore, by grace of a series of saving pratfalls. "Your habits / no longer seem as acceptable // as the floor."
     Yet outright risk must harbor safety, in any contemplation of divinity. Still, though the notion of God is frequent and has various bold, mostly Catholic appurtenances, there is no overtly devout move made toward resolution. "Perceiving an absence where love was intended" is the opening to a blunt fable of domestic discord, yet one that outlines a growing rift of dispiriting bleakness just begging for some larger context of allegorical relief. "Elegy for a Century of Aids" and the epithalamion "Life's Purpose Is God's Intention" are two successful, deftly elaborated models, freely recast from ancient forms, to achieve a bracing contemporary ring.
     "Who believes? but can also change." As in the best comedy, the terms have to stay absolute. Where the modern city holds iconic sway with a disconcerting, enervating strain, neither flesh nor spirit seem up to resisting for long; any lyric respite is pure joy. It is good to have a book of high wit and keen experience like this one, audaciously pointing to the future when no direction is certain.

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