Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Portable Altamont

by Brian Joseph Davis

On a high-school rugby trip, my buddy Mike Sullivan, to help pass time on the bus ride, introduced to the team the hilarious game of substituting the word “penis” for the principal noun in any Metallica song. Toronto artist Brian Joseph Davis’s first book reminds me of that game, as it might be played by a gaggle of terminally ironic grad students.

Davis’s poems function by the random insertion of more-or-less famous people into absurd situations. Games abound. The opening poem is a challenge to the reader to identify the famous books from which Davis has stolen and twisted the opening line. Another poem is full of blanks, with hints for readers to cook up their own hilarious stories. Tony Danza becomes a Bataille scholar, Borges an Entertainment Tonight commentator, and William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” morphs into an imagist close-up of Nick Nolte’s red G-string.

Ha. Ha. Occasionally, as with Jessica Simpson’s application for an arts grant and John Stamos and Winona Ryder’s testimonial on the therapeutic value of sweatshop labour, these juxtapositions have satiric bite, but the book as a whole, far from being funny, is extremely boring (imagine playing the Metallica/penis game for two hours at the age of 30 instead of 15, with no teachers at the front of the bus to make it risqué). This book is little better than an extended Toronto lit-scene in-joke, complete with the appearance of Coach House luminaries Darren Wershler-Henry and Christian Bök (a Bök cameo seems to be de rigueur for poetic coolness these days) as the accused in a murder trial.

Davis’s relentless cleverness extends beyond the poems into 30-odd pages of endnotes (often apparently unrelated to the poems to which they ostensibly refer), errata (one per poem), and index (with multiple entries for people not in the text). It’s all very post-post, very glib, and very forgettable. This book strikes me as the product of boredom; it’s a colossal waste of time to read, and one can only imagine the hours of human labour irretrievably lost in its production.