September 19, 2016
Need Machine by Andrew Faulkner is compulsive reading. “This is about what just happened. / This is about what’s next.” (from ‘Incidental’) These are poems you want to carry with you on the subway and read between stations. The uproar of city life is a good context for a poem like ‘Chorus’. Not ancient Greek tragedians speaking to the citizens of Toronto but Faulkner’s readily familiar voice taking us through “this little city from block to block, from hour to hour.” The Octavio Paz epigram that begins the poem opens up into a fevered hour, an hour made and unmade, a cadaverous hour, and is found again in Faulkner’s own words as ‘the hour’s mirrored eye’. He questions his own attempts to find Toronto by writing “As if by naming we could make a thing…”
His other acerbic and often funny poems hold the kind of tensions that keep a reader on the edge of their subway seat. Faulkner’s direct approach keeps you attentive even though you don’t always know what’s going on. The edgy language serves the humour and vice versa (“traffic limping like a waitress working a double in a cast”). He moves agilely through quick cuts and a range of references.
There are teasing echoes of conventional poetic structure, pace and specific allusions (“At our feet the evening gathers like litter”). These create an expectation of the inevitable explanation that doesn’t, and will not, come. “With apologies for those of you / waiting for a payoff, I guess this is it.” (from ‘Like Lions’) His distinct authorial voice is built on accumulation, not predictable closure. Anyone who ends their book with “Hello, caller, and welcome / to the show.” (from ‘Walk Home, Early Morning’) is not tuning in to yesterday’s radio. There is no table of contents so enjoy losing yourself in back alleys, Rorschachs, ‘a hot little mess,’ pinball and other need machines.