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 Jeff Blackman. (See also part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 of this series of five profiles).
Jeff Blackman works as a research analyst in Ottawa and tries to finish poems when we can. He used to edit The Moose & Pussy, once Ottawa’s best (and only) literary sex magazine, with his wife and partner Kate Maxfield, but now they have turned their attention to new projects, e.g. reproduction.
Blackman is a versatile poet. Stylistically speaking, his use of punctuation, brackets, dialogue, space, capital letters, lines and repetition is accomplished. Even his titles strike me as unusually original: “Whales in Popular Culture Part 2: Prove Me Wrong,” “No Comment” and my personal coup-de-coeur, “Year of Well.”
Most appealing to my personal taste is Blackman’s tone, which is panaromic, in constant flux, ranging from the outright hilarious, playfully ironic, to quite frankly strange. And sometimes all in one poem. Take, for example, “Whales in Popular Culture Part 2: Prove Me Wrong,” which reads like an interesting cultural critique. Through the power of free association, it combines pop culture and save-the-whale rhetoric in interesting ways: “Was it telepathic Spock who whisked her from the waves?”
In this poem, like in others, he starts his stanzas in such evocative ways, it’s impossible to not to be fascinated: “It seems,” “Take for instance,” “Or consider,” “If not for this poem it would be forgotten” and “Is this a trap I’ve set for you?” Blackman creates an instant connection with the reader, creating the illusion that the distance between him and his audience is slim.
I somehow became invested in what he had to say about Free Willy and Star Trek and Drew Barrymore. Within the logic of the poem, he had successfully trapped me.
In “No Comment,” I was once again drawn into the poem with the repetition with variation of the command “Don’t cross,” “Don’t discuss,” “Don’t tell.” The images of undone laces and muttering stuff online are easy to relate to. The playful tone, I think, its confessional, frank nature, is what struck me as most effective:Don’t tell me you aren’t interested in who thinks they’re going to Heaven—it’s interesting! Remember: you are what is common to your problems. Sing along to something. Stop toying with love’s font.
Blackman’s tone, language and style are unforgettable. In “Year of Well,” which reads like a letter to oneself, starts with a listing: “aging, idling, killing time outside of it’s important […]” and quickly fragments stylistically into capital letters seeking the command for love. Speaking of which, Blackman nails it with the lines:[…] It is midnight and an old flame texts me, “All my friends are robots (I miss you).” There’s nothing to be done with lust, but longing— brother that’s indulgent.