Table for Four

18 January 2022

Table for Four
by Eccentric Crops (Colin Smith, Jennifer Still, Steven Ross Smith, Ted Landrum)
Published by JackPine Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$30.00 ISBN 9781927035405

JackPine Press has been challenging traditional ideas re: what constitutes a book since the press’s inception, and with Table for Four, written by the four-poet collaborative Eccentric Crops—Colin Smith, Jennifer Still, Steven Ross Smith, and Ted Landrum—JackPine once again reimagines “book” and gives us an imaginative, multi-media chapbook, about the size of a bread and butter plate. Fittingly, this tasteful chapbook features a red coaster on the front cover and comes with a large red and white checked napkin folded inside a back flap that’s held in place with sturdy toothpicks. Also included: concrete poems, drawings, and a mostly black image with white pinpoints, titled “napkin braille”. Different? Indeed! Welcome to JackPine Press.

This collaborative project’s interesting on numerous levels. Firstly, contributor Jennifer Still, from Winnipeg, co-founded JackPine Press in 2002, and in her own work she “[explores] the intersections of language and material forms”. Both Still and Saskatoon’s Steven Ross Smith have worked with sound poetry, and both also publish with traditional publishers. Poet Colin Smith, in Winnipeg, was previously “strongly allied to the Kootenay school of Writing in Vancouver” and last published Multiple Bippies (2014). The fourth member of this poetic quartet, Ted Landrum, teaches at the University of Manitoba and participated in another collaborative chapbook project in 2018. A diverse group.

I began reading these experimental poems in the order they appear and noted several words repeated in consecutive poems, ie: ass, code, harpoon, migraine, falling, flutter(hand), heart, fistful(l), shaped, meteoric, nature, offer(s), sips(s), orchids, shamble(s), stretch, thin, veil, stitch(ed) and breath, and I wondered if the poets selected these words in advance and gave themselves the task of creating their own individual poems around them, or if each poem was in fact a collaboration. I flipped to the back and read the poets’ explanation about “What Happened”: “Steven invited us to make text together. We decided to work with quoted material. We imagined ourselves sitting at the cardinal points of a table. Jennifer suggested we pass versions around, widdershins. Numerous constraints were occasionally obeyed.” I also learned that Still “cut out every line of the sixteen line Ur-text and wove them into a grid [resembling a tablecloth] because she was interested in weaving”. The quotations for the former were drawn from disparate places, from T.S. Eliot’s work to “Claudio at University of Manitoba, Gym Locker Room, July 10, 2017”.

Clearly, these poets were having great fun, and each member of this “eccentric” quartet shares a poetic interest in “undermining convention”. The sounds of words prevail over meaning here, at least for this reader, ie: in the poem “DIVERSIA CHART” we read: “inner tango can coin top line snarl” and “legal space race rumble legs love testing radios”. Sound words are prevalent, ie: “thin/whine,” “Birds honk bright code,” “hum low,” and “oinking”. Alliteration abounds, especially in the poem “AIR” with its alphabetical alliteration, ending with “Wilderness sings within without”.

The chapbook’s a hoot on the page, but these works deserve a microphone and a stage.


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