These most recent poems from Nicole Markotić are raunchy little imp dances; they’re a lover that won’t stop punning, half love, half madness. Each “sentence” gives and then takes away, coy perhaps, but in charge. No Scheherazade poetics here you’ll see soon enough; there’s a painfully lovely dawning awareness that we’re the ones who dance here, and we dance for her.
— R W Gray
a boat skims the surface, plastic rudder aligns with the pond’s sundial, the canons prepped and
aiming. toys for US
who let the cat into the bag?
curtains drain the sun, your air conditioning follows Mars. I’ll bet it’s noon, now. I’ll bet it’s
break-time in Copenhagen
worry from your lower back, down. a crisis of German emerges from the ankles up
do you fing-er, or do you fing-Ger? long-er, or long-Ger?
aqua naps help cut the string that pulls maps closed
but only by name tag
there’s been a pneumatic leakage, a quarantined seepage, lay people lay about, their intention is freakage
my angle, usually indigenous, remains bent at the elbow
thigh high, my big toe plays abacus in the cricket park, a bat per person
we’re all thumbs today, meaning my finGers are toe-like
close every ocular door with a deaf testimonial, and remind the lip-reading alligators that kennels proliferate
ken you ken where I’m kent?
hurry and ketchup, the sundial’s ticking
wrinkling the cut-offs
Not only Echinacea Purple Cone, but dried Arugula and Potato Vines. A berry crawls across the rough cement, thirty-seven moths sneeze irregularly, and succulents refuse to believe in westward shade.
Calandis blows on her Peruvian flute, covering the middle tubes with her mouth, and Shao-Chiu
wears his spider-man mask. It’s too big, so his nose hole sits on his forehead between the insect-
blue eyes. She climbed the windows, he lurched from the television. Pleats in their shirts mean
ironing might be closer than you think. A popsicle during the heat wave simply
Motor vehicles insist that twelve times twelve equals, but does today count if it’s past midnight?
I meant to look up IESB, but Firefly parodies took over.
A racket of scrambling, a drip of Shala-sweat, a wrist-bone releases, and fingernails flutter to the tiles. I have counted up the list 49-million times and the answer always equals.
Sonnets breathe 14 yoga inhales. Each one a pause, pause in German. Rush home while the rushing’s good. Ghosts slip up as often in the mortal world. Could you walk that way? Do you bury saws? Two screws in the lawnmower, one above the kitchen counter. Check. Don’t dismiss this information as poetry.
I’m still stopping.
at risk or at least?
sloping from the TransCanada:
a road crew to repair the prairie rain that slid the hill down the sidewalk
three riders on one wheelchair, chasing cross-traffic
a pedestrian bridge where kids leap up, just as the cars pass beneath
used spiderman webs, dangling from rescue trees
wading pool asthma
and three blackbirds, pecking at peanut shells beside the hot yoga shala
could tomorrow pack in murderball and taxes, a porch sonata and processed wedding speeches, emails to two Karls, and leg passports?
when didn’t hot-and-bothered last all night?
but how much ink on paper defines a thorough edit?
A Voice, then a Crow.
friends fly east, west, and north. I sit facing south, in the shade, late in the evening, on a flat piece of cement, dying for loopholes
and when tomorrow isn’t what the early-bird brings?
Bamboo sheets and then the covers, in waves. Soft and caramel, but only in the morning. A dripping and a placebo. Misty. We’ve stroked the fibres of thick thickness, and double for tissue need, but not on weekdays. Whoever could have? A cardboard box, a cardboard railing, a cardboard pre-packaged breakfast extravaganza. And yes, just as good! Fourteen raisins and three eggs and five pills and the dregs off loose tea. One mug. Not my nose, not my shoulder, not the kneecaps, not seven of the toes, not the light switch instead of paint-stained berber. Elevator doors, but only on the way down. Remind me to pulse a few times on the 13th. Remind me to swallow. Did I ask?
Yes, swishing air, but not so’s y’d notice.
A metal handle, four car keys, and the wheel inside the wheel, ever-burning. Four times a scratched nose, and sixteen hair-flips but who says for show? The inside of an orange peel, but only twice by accident. Seventeen times on the radio, six on the computer. Ahem.
A sneeze that twirled inside niacin. But basically because Benjamin demanded diced celery at the precise corner of Pine and Windy. I’m not making this up. Too many buttons, or knobs, or “press one for”s or keypads or take-out packets to list. I’ll list as I lean. Lean as I learn. Learn from the fingertips, in. Yes, the bah dies. Bathe eyes.
A series of pages, not all poetry, but enough to justify the gutter restraints. Tainted by re. Re-up the upside, or the insect, or the smash-up. Windsor rain, on the downside. Seven doors. More books, in retail. More pens, in trade. More sleeves and file folders and dust that doesn’t count and counter surfaces that do. A penultimum of half-price merchandise.
And finally: each other, but as explicitly as yummy digitals.
“Thefts, Contortions, & Yogic Breathing: Nicole Markotić’s Trickster Poetics”
Nicole Markotić’s poetry is kinetic. In both of her collections, Minotaurs and Other Alphabets (1998) and Bent at the Spine (2012), her aesthetics torque the prose poem until it transforms into something hectic, witty, and earnest. For Markotić, the loosely structured versification of the prose poem avoids the “and/or” pitfalls that Western traditional poetry and prose rely on. By disregarding formal line breaks and punctuation, her prosody conveys a more natural pause. This genre-crossing makes for a paratactic exploration that broaches complex questions concerning nationalism, feminism, and language.
She further complicates this exploration through her inclusion of overheard conversations. These dislocated voices often become her titles. They underscore her interest in multiple perspectives and reveal how her attentive eavesdropping comes from being preeminently concerned with physical and metaphorical margins—margins which locate the cultural idiom through sound bites, double entendres, and puns that stack the poem with polyvocal suggestion. Markotić’s work exhibits a trickster quality in that she steals language and then returns it in altered forms. Her intertextual links rework language within the poem and provide a way of listening attentively to the world.
As the selection below attests, her poetry grows out of the sentence. It is the “sentential piece,” in her words, that encourages “plasticity resistant to notions of purity in either prose or poetry.” Markotić’s use of the prose poem is her way of subverting the Western traditional poem, the poem that she deems a patriarchal device that doesn’t provide ample space for marginal voices. “I’m always stopping,” she remarks as though her thoughts cannot be completed because the medium does not encourage it or because she is hesitant in her own abilities to speak through the tradition. She reinforces this difficulty, in the selection here, in a variety of ways. In two of the poems, for example, she evokes “shala.” as “the hot yoga shala” and “Shala-sweat.” As it’s unclear if she is referring to the war goddess Shala, or to the Sanskriti word for yoga studio, she emphasizes the arbitrariness of language. Both meanings, however, may be anchors—avatar and shelter—for celebrating Markotić’s assertion that subversions of language demand closer attention. “Too many buttons, or knobs,” she reminds us in another place, “’or press one for’s or keypads or take-out packets to list. I’ll list as I lean. Lean as I learn.” And here the word play on “list” suggests lists of problems in a techno-centric world that no longer provides person-to-person encounters. “List” also alludes to listening, enclosing an area for battle, desiring, accepting a challenge, stitching something together, and, among still others, to leaning to one side or losing equilibrium. All of these definitions add complexity and suggest that there are no absolutes.
Because Markotić’s world is without absolutes, she often alludes to uncertainty. Even ephemeral elements play an important part in her explorations. As she observes in “wrinkling the cut-offs,” “Ghosts slip up as often in the mortal world.” Through this statement, she subsequently generates the question: “Could you walk that way?” The question confounds and conflates. It is unclear if it responds to the statement, meaning should we act as ghosts when we make mistakes? Or is her question an independent thought, a tangent triggered by something physical in her periphery, something that interrupts the previous thought? This is one way she keeps her language in motion.
The physical body is also essential to her re-workings of language and movement. It is often a field for converging discomforts, emphasizing that, for her, “the prose poem is a poetic strategy embedded within the structure of narrative, and a feminist response to patriarchal language and forms.” Even the title, Bent at the Spine, suggests physical contortions, a doubling, as well as splitting something, such as a book, in an irreparable way. “Staying In,” from this selection, is a good example of how Markotić slides from the personal and physical to global concerns through her stylistic and formal innovations. The sentence, of course, provides interconnectivity for her shifts between lenses. She writes, “worry from your lower back, down. a crisis of German emerges from the ankles up.” Elsewhere, she writes, “Sonnets breathe 14 yoga inhales,” thus becoming a manifestation of body and language.
Her line breaks and tumbling thoughts are also physical impositions onto the poem. They embody the reader, highlighting her inclusive project. By incorporating colloquial language and found speech fragments from public places, she beguiles the reader into a kind of subtext to the dialogue. On a re-reading, however, the strangeness and ragged breathing patterns that may have been overlooked the first read, pushes through. She asks in this selection, ”Do you bury saws?” And before we have a chance to find our footing and an answer, she’s off on a strangely domestic and disconcerting check-list that sounds vaguely familiar: “Two screws in the lawnmower, one above the kitchen counter. Check. Don’t dismiss this information as poetry.” The essential nature of Markotić’s world is made up of these glimpses and fleeting moments.
While this discursiveness is present in Minotaurs and Other Alphabets, Bent at the Spine is much more fractured and concerned with accommodating more voices. It is perhaps an ethical turn: by situating her own voice as one among many, she encourages autonomy and community. By fusing these voices to both her attention-deficit sentence and to the body, she conveys the repressiveness she feels in having to lock down her thoughts. Marcotić isn’t interested in polite, normative poetics and she doesn’t meander on the neat path through traditional structure. Her sentences stand discursive beside each other in order to capture the rhythms of an uneasy urban vernacular. If we have normalized our isolations and shortened our attention spans to cater to dramatic transformations of movement and interaction, then poetry, for her, is panacea for jarring us out of this state of quickening. So that patch of Trans-Canada, that hot yoga studio or that hard rain is familiar to us but still strange. It’s Marcotić’s plasticity again, her resourceful poetics steeped in re-mapping the phenomenal and outcries of the body in order to prompt you: Look again. Take none of this at face value.
Tammy Armstrong’s poetry has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada, US, Europe, UK, and Algeria. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and short-listed twice for the CBC Literary Prize. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick, working in Critical Animal Studies and North Atlantic Poetry.