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Poetry Week: The fragile equilibrium of Justin Million

By Sanita Fejzić on March 25, 2015


Ottawa-based Apt. 9 Press published this past fall Five, a poetry collection by five different poets. With the start of VERSeFest this week, we thought this would be a great opportunity to profile each of the writers featured in Five.  Today we look at the work of Justin Million.  (See also part 1part 2part 4 and part 5 of this series of five profiles).

Justin Million is currently living and writing in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, while commuting to Pickering, Ontario for work at a sporting goods store.  Million’s work has appeared in Poetry Is DeadottawaterThe Steel Chisel, In/Words Magazine and  Sassafrass Literary Magazine. He has also published three books with Ottawa’s Apt. 9 Press, as well as 16 chapbooks of solo and collaborative work, with various small press groups in Ottawa.

Million is currently working on a series of poems/songs for a book/music tour with the working title “His Baffling Anodyne”, which centers around how despicable people are, how unfair the world is, and how women, for the most part, smell incredible.

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Justin Million

The first reference to Million occurs not in his section, but earlier, in a poem dedicated to him by Jeff Blackman, titled, “Progress.” Already, Blackman shapes words and images around Million: “think myself a natural wonder / waiting to be discovered / or maybe win the lottery.”

But nothing Blackman suggests could have prepared me for Million’s work.  His opening poem, also about home, “a bird or what’s worse in the house,” is idiosyncratic of the rest of his poems in this collection.  The conceit is as follows: alcohol, women and writing.

This emphasis on ordinary life combined with poverty, alcohol, women and the act of writing, is perhaps most striking in “60/30” and can, if you’re like me, remind you of Charles Bukowski’s tone and themes:

             turn 30
             have the balls to be
             presumptuous about 60
             hammered and 10 years broke and its failure of women and I feel two
            decades ambered. Oh Beauty, don’t move—
             if it wasn’t for the damned
             light I could see in the dark-
             then I drop each brown light
              in gut, each bottle needed for doing

The rest of the poem continues to evoke aging, poverty, cigarettes and alcohol, becoming vulnerable and rough, almost heartbreaking near the end.  Something in me is so touched by the fragile equilibrium between ordinary tenderness and banal violence of the lines (they are so intense, frank and real), that I resist the impulse to interpret them:

             the dead bottles drunk, you drink
             so friends leave for the night warm guts
             and your welfare begging you
             to turn that heat that separates you
            out of this year, […]