Crude, over-sexed and under-groomed, yet charming in its eccentricity, C.R. Avery’s latest book, Some Birds Walk For the Hell Of It, is the quirky uncle of poetry collections. Avery’s gritty, in-your-face language is a refreshing detour from more traditional poetic voices. Trees, lakes, loons and other icons of “Canadiana” are happily absent, replaced by posh bakeries in Orillia (“Lunch Pick-up Poem”), Glenn Gould’s neurosis (“Memo”) and “a small tub in Strathcona,” (“Studio Gangster & The Infamous House Concert”). Unfortunately, Some Birds falls prey to other tropes. While Avery’s work bears more than a passing resemblance to Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac – long considered pioneers in their genres – Avery has little new to say.
The power of Avery’s style lies in shock, a tactic that weakens with each successive blow. Eventually lines like, “The comic strip villainous-lookin’ bartender seemed so uptight / that if King Kong ejaculated on his face, / he’d use his glass-polishing rag to wipe it away,” feel more silly than potent. After successive exposures, the poems start to feel two-dimensional below the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll stories they portray, transforming into drunken, swagger-filled bar-tales that go nowhere.
Perhaps the most common – and worn – theme in Some Birds is women, who feature as nothing more than faceless vessels to give the narrator “a blow job on [the] sofa,” (“Another West Side Girl”). The phrase, “… wears the open relationship she’s in / like a badge on her vag,” (“Cold Fire of Escape”) is so sexist and objectifying as to border on blatant misogyny – never mind that the line itself, with its juvenile rhyme, is teeth-grindingly bad.
As a whole, the collection feels lazy and poorly-edited – especially the last quarter – a jumble of images and lines the reader trips over. Despite this, there are moments of terrific beautiful where Avery surprises the reader. The poem “Memo” with its line, “There’s an opera of erotic joy sleeping like a manual-labour dragon,” stands above its less-glossy cousins.
The pervasive word in this collection is ‘I’ – the Ego is an omnipresent. While there is no obvious connection between pieces, the voice of the narrator – punchy, straight-edged, arrogant-yet-vulnerable – feels continuous, regardless of whether the poem is in the first person or not. This straight-shooting narrative style sometimes works as in “The New Messiah”; it is indeed a fact that “Any guy who says ‘Divine Blessings’ to the line cooks” does deserve “to have a donkey take a shit in his mouth.” And sometimes it does not, as in the final poem “Now On To Other Things,” which ends the collection with this fourth-wall-breaking missive, “Gotta split / take one last look / Gotta admit / one hell of a book.”
One hell of a book indeed. Those who are fond of the Beat Poets for their subject matter are the readers most likely to enjoy Some Birds. Readers interested in substance over subject may find this collection disappoints.
Lori Garrison is a writer, poet and reviewer whose work has appeared in QWERTY, Northern Public Affairs and The Rusty Toque. She lives in Whitehorse, YT, where her hobbies include trout fishing and waiting for spring.
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