il virus by Lillian Necakov (published by Anvil Press)
The richness of Lillian Necakov’s imaginative imagery, grounded in the dailyness of pandemic life, is invigorating, despite the threat of il virus. Her skills as a poet and range of references – developed over ten books including 1989’s Sickbed of Dogs (Wolsak and Wynn), through 2011’s The Bone Broker (a Stuart Ross Book from Mansfield Press), to The Lake Contains an Emergency Room (from Apt.9 Press in 2015) ̶ allow us to live in these poems beyond the parameters of stay-at-home orders.
With each surreal juxtaposition our new shared strangeness is felt in its specificity and seeming interminability. The weather can’t be trusted either: in #59 there is a suspicious rendezvous / of mistral and malicious / cloud. We wonder in #58 what will get us through when there will be no moorage. We learn that the codex needs to be full of musicians and writers and characters: from Hieronymous Bosch to Hawkeye Pierce, from Etta James to The Pogues, from s y l v i a b e a c h in the fictional Shakespeare and Company Lending Library to some damn poet/ pacifying the chaos. If you’re intoxicated/ by this forged journey/ you choose/ you choose/ to remain/ braided in time. In these poems replete with memory, imagination and desire, we may be sheltering in place, but we have not lost connection with each other and what we love.
She creates a language for dealing with this strange time: there is voodoo/ in the air/ a volatile metaphor/ at the end of each / sentence/ something trapped/ behind the ribcage (#63). The vocabulary of her poems reference the Dewey Decimal System, German, Spanish, French, Gaelic, viral genome sequences, sunburst numbers, Oppenheimer’s pencil, antipoems, and a hotel filled with expired sonnets.
In a brief interview after her reading for Anvil Press, Lillian talked with Stuart Ross who brought the book into print. She said that this series, which gathers its own momentum over “the most terrifying seventy-eight days of (her) life” simply started out as one poem written on a quiet day at the beginning of the lockdown. Responses to her posts on Facebook encouraged the writing of more individual poems that became a natural progression toward longer poems as she felt less anxious.
If you don’t want to reflect on life during a pandemic, read Necakov to learn how to write poetry. She develops necessary lyric forms right in front of our eyes. Lillian Necakov is a very conscious surrealist since her days curating The Surrealist Poets Garden Association. Her dreamlike intimacy with the texts, images, people, and places in the poems brings the reader beyond the logic of prose narrative to a feeling that everything is happening right now. She constellates tender references to a familiar Toronto with Alan Ginsberg climbing up the drainpipe and Sean Penn coming over for dinner but on the lowdown.
Even though we move through the jeopardous molecules of heavenless days…we fashion a hieroglyph to be hung in the window/ to remind us/ there will be a tomorrow and a tomorrow/ and again a tomorrow.