Poet Shane Rhodes espouses an aesthetic called Stray Dog Poetics. He specializes in found poems, quotation, adroit juxtapositions and typographical play — also political comment and comedy (um, those beaver dialogues). Herewith the first in a series of assembled texts put together by Senior Editor R W Gray, matching poets with critics, performance with commentary. In this case, the poet also comments on some of the poems. The effect goes beyond the astonishing poems themselves (found poems, hybridized texts, quotations) to create an echo chamber of comment and refrain. Wonderful to have on the pages of NC.
Ottawa poet Shane Rhodes‘s playful and subtly acerbic poems dramatize, scandalize and make demands. There is no safe place to stand. In an afterword to the poems here Fredericton writer Rob Ross’s delves into Rhodes’s self-proclaimed “stray dog poetics” and argues for what he sees as the poet’s “mongrel meandering.”
—R W Gray
Four Found Poems by Shane Rhodes
“Ludic Lucidity: Pro Pelle”
Beaver 1 (opening gambit):
NOW KNOW YE, that We being desirous
to be one Body Corporate in Deed
and in Name.
Beaver 2 (poetically): Plead, and be impleaded.
Answer, and be answered. Defend, and be
Beaver 1: Dear and entirely beloved
Cousin, discover a new passage
to southern seas — let us trade.
Beaver 2: Besought,
incorporate, in Deed and in Name,
in entrance of my Streights. Have me with especial
Grace, certain Knowledge, and mere Motion . . .
Beaver 1 (interrupting): . . . break,
change, make anew, hence the same and no other.
Beaver 2 (the questioning one):
And we will?
Beaver 1: And we do!
Beaver 2: At any publick
Assembly, being desirous and being
one? Take this corporal Oath and assemble
in my convenient Place.
Beaver 1 (boldly):
OUR WILL, OUR PLEASURE!
This, I shall well and faithfully perform
in free and common Soccage in all the Seas,
Streights, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks and Sounds, upon
the Countries, Coasts and Confines, the Inlets
Beaver 2 (questioning): And not in Capite or by Knight’s Ser-
Beaver 1 (building intensity):
Beaver 2 (questioning): TO HAVE, HOLD, possess and
Beaver 1 (more intensity):
Beaver 2 (questioning, with emotion): TO BE HOLDEN?
Beaver 1 (fortisimo, they embrace each other): HOLD!
Beaver 2: Give and grant, Our dear — aiding . . . favouring
. . . helping . . . assisting.
Beaver 1 (breathless, grunting with rodent emotion):
AND FURTHER, my Bar-
onet! On Land as on Sea – whatsoever.
My Lord! My 100 Pounds Prince!
Beaver 2: O, my WILL!
My special license!
Beaver 1: My Mayor! My Admiral!
Beaver 2: We do.
Beaver 1: WE DO.
Beaver 1 & Beaver 2 (together, rodent voices breaking):
O, WE DO!
Note on the Poem
On July 14, 1970 the fourth Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Rent Ceremony took place at Lower Fort Garry. This time, in place of the “two Elks and two black beavers” stipulated in the Royal Charter as rent, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a large glass tank containing two live beaver. During the ceremony and in front of the gathered dignitaries, the beavers frolicked in the water. Near the end of the ceremony, the beavers began to mate, the tank water sloshing from side to side. The Queen stopped the proceedings and asked HBC Governor Viscount Amory “Whatever are they doing?” To which he replied, “Ma’am, it’s no use asking me. I am a bachelor.”
Pro Pelle takes place on the dais where the beavers were presented to the Queen. All words and phrases are taken from the 1670 Royal Charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Latin Pro Pelle means “for fur” and is from the HBC coat of arms: Pro Pelle Cutem.
The requirement is you sit still and listen
The requirement is you listen very well
The requirement is you not touch the wired-in speakers
The requirement is you must state the correct answer right now
The requirement is every word will be used against you, and the fighter jets overhead
mean nothing and the landing craft floating off-shore mean nothing as well
The requirement is you will be given a number and barcode and the barcode will be
tattooed onto your wrist and must not be removed even if your arm is removed
The requirement is you clean yourself, kneel and make the sign of the cross after it
has been done
The requirement is you hold the kneeling position for at least six hours
The requirement has been approved by the Minister in a briefing note of concurrence and
is to be read between commercials by the actor
The requirement is the actor have well-gelled hair and that, after he has read
the requirement, all stations will cut to a situation comedy already in progress
The requirement is brought to you by the following companies
The requirement is you are free to read the requirement; however, it is in a document to
which you have no authorized access
The requirement is you breath deeply from our generous gifts
The requirement is you don’t go digging in the jungles, forests, archives or libraries
The requirement is passivity holds its own promise
The requirement is your silence is a gold to be mined and smeltered to pay off the debt of
The requirement is a protest cannot be made under the stipulations of the requirement
The requirement is you sign the agreement if your fingers are broken if your hand cannot
write if you do not speak the language if you do not understand what it is we are saying,
we are authorized to sign the agreement for you
The requirement is an inquest will be held and report issued after it has been done
The requirement is you work with us to make the requirement better and better
The requirement is I speak no further of the requirement
Note on the Poem
El Requerimiento (The Requirement) was an edict created in 1510 by Juan López de Palacios Rubios, a jurist with the Consejo Real, as a means to bely Spanish concerns that the indigenous populations of the Americas were being exterminated by the Conquistadors without due process. The Requirement was to be read to any indigenous population upon first contact. The Requirement gives a brief history of the Spanish Christian world, the Catholic church, and the 1493 papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI (the Inter caetera) that divided America into zones for Spanish and Portuguese conquest. The Requirement gave any listener three options: convert, be converted by force, or die. The Requirement also absolved the Spanish crown and its army of fault.
Given the unlikelihood The Requirement would ever be understood (it was only read in Spanish or Latin) or heeded by indigenous populations, its use in the Americas approached macabre comedy. “These wicked Spaniards,” writes Bartolome de las Casas in 1542, “like Thieves came to any place by stealth, half a Mile off of any City, Town or Village, and there in the Night published and proclam’d the Edict.”
Stray Dog Poetics: Found Poetry from Shane Rhodes — Rob Ross
Shane Rhodes poems brandish a startling array of found materials: the shell-shocked ravings of a sixteenth-century friar, a blood-curdling edict from the Spanish Crown absolving its military from acts of genocide, and poetically excised government documents. Rhodes takes these found or borrowed pieces and confronts their blatant and insidious violence, showing how European supremacy has been ruthlessly maintained in the so-called “new” world. The often visually-striking forms presented here flow easily into their gory contents, allowing the reader to rip meaty themes from structural bones without choking on gristly ambiguities, and leaving a lingering and visceral aftertaste of the ongoing horror of colonial exploitation.
“Ludic Lucidity: Pro Pelle” is a dramatic dialogue between two beavers being presented to the Queen who decide to get it on for her Royal Highness. A footnote to the poem reveals that this actually happened at a Hudson’s Bay Rent Ceremony (the colonial equivalent of the landlord visiting your apartment for his due, and a cup of tea). Fittingly, their juicy linguistic foreplay is comprised of excerpts from the 1670 HBC Royal Charter, which apparently had some kinky aspirations for the relationship between Queen and Country. The HBC, of course, very much relied on frolicking beavers for its financial well being, but this ménage à trois reminds me of how fur traders married First Nations women in order to facilitate the trade of pelts. Sex was literally used to legitimize British dominion over Hudson’s Bay in several ways.
In “White Out: Erasure Poem,” liquid paper is selectively used on an Indian Act application form, the piece of paper that both defines and excludes First Nations people from treaty rights. “In you the / Act will numb / the vision,” the poem begins, and what categorizes one as aboriginal in Canada is turned into an exposé of how the Indian Act excludes people based on blood lines: “If you fall / you are under the Act / lost not Indian / Children of women / whose mother whose father’s mother / did not have us under the Act.”
The presence of both a background and foreground text is reminiscent of Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue, where faded descriptions of various crops from an actual seed catalogue lie behind the poem proper. Kroetsch’s aim was to describe the difficulty of being a poet in western Canada (how hard it was to “grow” a poet, so to speak, in the harsh climate of the prairies), while trying to invent a poetic tradition as well, transforming the catalogue in the process Rhodes’s poem plays in a similar way, but to critique Canada’s assimilation policies that “whiten out” aboriginal cultures. Canada denies aboriginal status to people all the time with this registration/segregation form. In selectively whiting out the language that selects people for treaty rights, Rhodes points to the ongoing cultural genocide perpetrated by our government through crafty bureaucratic red tape.
Shane Rhodes once described his writing method as “stray dog poetics,” a theory of composition “built on lightness, wander, wonder, hope, anger, inquisitiveness, love, hunger, lust.” It is a practice open to multiple styles and influences, designed to accommodate the “mutt conglomeration of impulses” that Rhodes pursues in his work. Such mongrel meandering lurks in these poems, but Rhodes’s focus on imperial relations, and their ongoing impact in Canada society, demonstrates a thematic coherence that does not fit comfortably with this philosophy. If anything, he adapts his stray dog poetics here to a unity of subject, showing multiple approaches to the one, overriding impulse of exposing colonial injustice.
Shane Rhodes has written five collections of poetry: The Wireless Room (NeWest Press, 2000), which won the Alberta Book Award for poetry, Tengo Sed (Greenboathouse, 2004), Holding Pattern (NeWest, 2002), which won the Archibald Lampman Award, The Bindery (NeWest, 2007), which won the Lampman-Scott Award, and Err (2011). His poetry has also appeared in a number of Canadian poetry anthologies including Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets and Breathing Fire 2. He lives in Ottawa where he works with the federal government developing AIDS policies.
Rob Ross reads and writes in Fredericton. Some of his work has appeared in The Manitoban, Nod Magazine, and Nonymous.