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Inter Alia

by David Seymour; $, pp.,

Inter Alia is Toronto-based David Seymour’s first book. The first section – a suite of poems that adopts the geological themes and manner of Seymour’s mentor and editor, Don McKay – is rather uninspired. Entitled “Nomenclature of the Semi-Precious,” this metaphysical inventory of gemstones is indeed more than a little precious in its conceit. With the exception of “Quartz,” in which Seymour torques his language much tighter, the series is far more lithic than lapidary.

The problem with these poems and many others in the book is not that they are poorly written, but that they lack the spark and signature style of original art. They are for the most part competently crafted, but tend to plod along, dropping familiar tropes in an equally familiar free verse line. Seymour makes an attempt to ironicize these faults at the back of the book by including an erratum that instructs the reader to “read emptiness” in place of “light” and to “Remove all references to the heart and do not replace.” But awareness of hackneyed writing doesn’t excuse it.

Like many of his contemporaries, Seymour likes to show he is well versed in modern and pomo philosophy, as he gratuitously quotes or refers to Heidegger, Benjamin, Deleuze, and Bentham. As his title suggests, Seymour is preoccupied with “otherness,” which tends to keep his poems at a cool remove, inhibiting opportunities for negative capability and verbal catharsis.

There is nevertheless some strong and unaffected writing in the book. Employing the incantatory, anaphoric structure of Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno,” Seymour manages to write a raucous four-page poem on silence. He also uses the prose line to excellent effect in a suite of compact biographical prose poems, originally published as a chapbook by Junction Books, about the blues artist Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter.

Inter Alia is, among other things, a mix of attempts at different styles, workshop exercises, unexorcised influences, faux profondeurs, and the occasional indication of real ability. I’m curious to see what sort of critter eventually emerges from this chrysalis of a first book.