A Review of Jeramy Dodds'
Coach House Books 2017
By Benjamin C.utie Dugdale
When I first read crabwise to the hounds a few years ago I did not grasp its appeal or its track-record. Hearing Dodds read new(er) work ever before I read Crabwise, and the fun he was having seemed totally beyond what his earlier work had achieved, joyous & big & important. A few poets I have spoken with seem to find Crabwise more stylistically coherent than Dodds’ shiny new Drakkar Noir, but I disagree. What Dodds has produced here is both thematically & stylistically a wider and more lustrous diamond-caked spider-web than the earlier offering of Crabwise. DN’s “Kraagrawgeewan” is a (mis)translation of sorts from Raven-caw into poem, and it radiates a bit of silliness, but conversely implies a sense of hidden or unknowable language that other experiments and gags like “The Official Translation of Ho Chi Minh's August 18th, 1966, Telephone Call” in Crabwise, “'transliterated' from so-called CIA cassette tapes of a wire-tap” fail to approach; Crabwises’ experiment functioning as an arbitrary prod more than an actual interest in the results, tone, and effect of such experiments, how they occupy space in the larger collection; DN reads as a purposeful poetry collection, not just corralled works of great composition and momentum.
To be transparent, not all of that aforementioned ‘fun’ makes it onto the page in DN, and one might suspect much of the fun is generated by Jeramy's picaresque car-salesman personal charm in live readings, so shiny and waxed and buffed. Attending this most recent poetry-weekend in Fredericton, NB, I was made fun of by a few folks within earshot for wearing an obsolete badge for railroad-police, folks who referred to me as a "Doddsian fanboy." One might assume this teasing is prompted by my own maximal poetic tendencies, and perhaps in part Jeramy's iconic Sheriff badge that (I assume) remains fastened to the bleak overcoat that he parades around in thru winter. I did not approach these critics to point out that adjectivizing Dodds' name is giving him power that only serves to further chafe their opinion of him; I actually appreciate the idea of a Doddsian poetica, or a Doddsian-mode, though maybe it is just something about too many d's in a single word seem ggoodd poetry to my funny mouth. If Dodds’ style really is too-oft imitated—and with diminishing returns—in Canadian writing, is this itch to try on the Doddsian poetic-overcoat symptom of our desire for more exciting poetry, a desire to achieve the popularity and critical acclaim of Dodds’ work, or something else entirely? Is Dodds really at fault for these imitations? The entire line of questioning seems dimmed by blinders, NO FUN, and serves to martyr Dodds as the single weirdo doing fun stuff in poetry; he is one of many, certainly, but nowhere near the weirdest.
Pursuing the rabbit-hole of this personal anecdote deeper: I also wear a lot of rings on my hands, I also dislike boring poetry, love skinny jeans and Bill Callahan, and am sure there's legion more similarities between Jeramy and I should anyone choose to scrutinize; the most important thing is that I use my obsolete railroad-police badge as a totem to keep others from ‘derailing’ conversations centered on homosexuality, feminism, etcetera, a magical prop of sorts, something that helps punctuate an end I am already dedicated to (however silly or affected the ‘prop’ may seem); yes, Dodds’ written and performed facades are constructed (how could anyone miss its transparency would be my follow-up question), as are my own, and I suspect most anyone who likes to get up in front of a microphone and read deeply personal important mystical language-works is utilizing some sort of persona to pull it off. Where Dodds is most fruitfully evaluated is re:the work itself, approaching our understanding of him as a stylist, on merit of his skill in the craft (which is often inimitable, though many believe themselves capable of reproducing it (and never get around to proving it)). Dodds leans into occult and magical themes, and the value imbued when such themes are articulated well is the transcendental it that poetry provides us with, the magic moment.
We should be quick to point out here is that DN is not merely cheap fun whacky anecdotal thrills where Walken and McConaughey peep in to fulfill some po-mo promise, and then saunter back to their otherwise uneventful unpoetic lives. Instead, this book’s voice is deeply self-scathing, melancholy, grotesque, and lost. Dodds' incredible facility with language and surprising imagery is on full-display, often full-stop 'yuck' (I recall an Instagram post of his, where one mannequin in a beautiful window-display appears to fellate another), and sometimes in total formal control ("The Dioarama Of Our Future Breakup" a relentless baton race of colloquial bridges). Further, much of the material in this noir of sorts reeks of being haunted by some unfulfilled purpose or promise. The haunting seems carried out most prominently by the speaker's daughter, helping with a murder here and shrugging off a boyfriend to be executed without much concern there—"will you be heading to the beheading?”—this daughter surviving school with a hellish skin complexion its own brand of horror, this phantom daughter Dodds can only conjure in these poems (and not thus far one in real life). Too, hounds appear more like ghoulish omens and dead things than man's best friend, and these dispossessions of family and familiars prove the seriousness of the book thru undercurrents of solemnity and solitude.
Some miscellaneous thoughts: the book's cover is tones of kink subtract mythic squared occult, and various references runneth up and over my head I am sure most the time (and who has the time to be so well-versed in Nordic verse? In this economy?). The cheaper elements of what many of my friends sum Dodds to are at play—the erotic child-eating dolphin poem, the seemingly meaningless endless oscillation thru aural punning, the now-and-then rhyming couplets to close. Yes, some of Jeramy's magic tricks would do better with a full on smoke bomb instead of the pithy offerings from his an untended cigarette. But these poems do not at all just feel like a collection of "greatest hits written since my last book" as Jeramy off-handedly mentioned during an online-broadcast on Facebook. Crabwise was a janky net-catch of poems, some total duds, but DN is a thick iconoclastic muck born from one single pit, and few (if any) lazy poems find their way in.
The greatest leap Dodds makes from Crabwise to DN is what I've left out so far: the strides where it actually IS fun. "What Pa Saw" is a full journey, a biblical sort of falling out, a halloweeny costume gag between gone wrong with guts on the outside and “ploughing” horse erections (see: “blood-bat”). The poem’s family ensemble of Hindbrain, Bowbrain, (Steve, & Dave it seems) against their Pa in pursuit of retribution, just-desserts served as “the deed to the farm.” An “angelic hee-haw,” “handbomb(ing)” innards out, a “lynchgate agape,” all this active bizarre language serving an end in a fairly coherent narrative (all play considered), perhaps not quite a prose-poem, but something beginning to take on that form. WPS is dark, but it's also full in a way that so much of poetry in this particularly pissy deep-end corner of the wave-pool is, where non-sequiturs or new descriptions too often become the whole show instead of privileging the meaning of those playful language-acts. This terrible father-son dread, this hovering anxiety about that relationship, and beautiful language to boot would be enough to form an intriguing poem in vaguer terms, but this sustained play in four movements seems like quite the feat.
The strongest and funnest poem in DN has to be its final hectatomb, "The Swan With Two Necks." TSWTN is pure dream stream swing yawnsense potentcy, a dose of something vicious and wild and seemingly less calculated than most of his work to date; grotesqueries and gore and momentum and more, something you're dragged behind as it races down jelly-slick cobblestone “godsped off the dock…a half-bred fossil-fuelled warhead,” further from funhouse mirror with an iridescent chrome that one might dismiss quick with the tired notion that it's just a trick.
It seems Dodds has made a leap into a sort of narrative purpose with his shattered linguistic-magics, into voices that feel so thirsty and lonely and real despite their poetic elevation, their various conspicuous habits. Where this relaxed voice might take Dodds in the future, I've no clue (though a loose ‘novel’ a la Derek McCormack would be delightful). I'll leave you here, like a dad who’s gone out for a pack of smoke bombs and never came back: if Dodds is permanently moving toward an overtaking mossy melancholy holy madness like this, I'll gladly witness.