Poems for Lunch Poems at SFU, Rob Mclennan
above/ground press, 2020 $5.00
Rob Mclennan is a Canadian poet/publisher, so for UK readers the ‘SFU’ in the title might need a note of explanation. It stands for Simon Fraser University (in British Columbia). One of its regular activities is hosting a monthly lunchtime poetry reading — although whether Mclennan could read the whole of this pamphlet during the session isn’t clear.
‘Lunch poems’ rings a bell. It was the title of Frank O’Hara’s sixth collection, published by City Lights in 1964. Those were poems written at speed, often during a city walk, responding to what was happening on the street or in the news. They were immediate, direct and conversational in tone. They reflected O’Hara’s interests and curiosity.
Did this influence SFU’s choice of name for its readings? How much did Mclennan have O’Hara’s poems in the back of his mind? I can’t know the answers but the questions sit alongside my response to these poems. To me, they read as though they were written quickly, catching the images as they fly, getting them down before they can escape. Mclennan has an impressionistic style and his poems, as shown here, are in numbered sections.
This, the second section from ‘Four poems for my forty-ninth birthday’, shows his rapid-jotting approach —
The O-train as it snakes, construction. Timetables,
walked and walking. Wherewithal.
They aim to build this
needlessly slow. I kid, of course. But then:
does nothing to absorb the water. Floodplain,
streets. The carved precision
of caged liquid. But,
the clouds. The lightest rail.
This doesn’t attempt to show me the whole picture but the quickly-drawn sketch catches how thought moves over the surface of what’s seen. A construction site links to travel and how time is controlled; to movement; to the effects of building on the environment. We don’t need an explanation for each stage but simply to go along with it, to keep up with the poet.
These are poems that travel fast and never stay still.
D A Prince