Review: Odourless Press (Ottawa ON): Ladouceur, Blackman, Sinaee

[Originally published at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter, 1 November 2011]

Odourless Press (Ottawa ON) appeared without ceremony in August 2011. The press identifies itself as “a small Ottawa collective.” It has an active web presence, publishing poems near-daily on its blog as well as hosting poetry podcast contentfrom local readings. Odourless chapbooks are single pages, folded or stuffed into envelopes, printed on both sides with a handful of poems. The clean, simple designs are a testament to creativity and restraint. Odourless accomplishes an awful lot with a single page. With a $0.50 price tag on each book, there is a whole lot to like here, and no excuse not to buy them all.

Mutt

Ben Ladouceur

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Ben Ladouceur has been busy in 2011. He read on the opening night of VERSeFest, published two previous chapbooks (Lime Kiln Quay Road [above/ground: Ottawa, 2011] and self-portrait as the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time [The Moose & Pussy: Ottawa, 2011]), and one broadside (TUKTOYUKTUK [Apt. 9 Press: Ottawa, 2011], not to mention his ongoing graduate studies. It continues to be a pleasure to find new poems from Ben available.

Mutt collects five new ones that walk a fine line between sadness and humour. Ben has remarkable control over his subject matter, managing a bill bissett epigraph, a Kafka reference, a prayer, and bodily humour in the first poem, “Colostomy”:

You have lifted the t-shirt

over your sweet head

to reveal your dark bag of faeces, proof

the body is a sequence of routes that men

can redirect.

These are poems of loss and decay, separation and return. There is a restlessness in Ben’s work, subject matter that roams across cities and countries. “A home has lost its home,” he writes in “Redundancies.” For the displacements of these poems, the reader is rewarded with stunning images: “A lake is a body of water plus / the bodies of hundreds of birds” (“Derwentwater”). Ben has seen enough quality work into print in chapbooks and magazines in the last two years to furnish a staggering debut trade collection. Until that happens, Mutt is a welcome addition to his body of work.

Back to My Old Self

Jeff Blackman

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Jeff Blackman is one of the hardest working and most underappreciated writers in Ottawa. He has been quietly developing a unique and engaging voice over a series of projects in the last few years. Perhaps, more accurately, he has been developing unique and engaging voices. From his sex-positive work as co-founder and co-editor of The Moose & Pussy, to his devastating Shiva after Shabbas (Horsebroke: Ottawa, 2011), and now Back To My Old Self (Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011), a series of poems that take on the single greatest video game in the history of video games: Super Mario Bros. 3.

Jeff understands poems—funny poems, sad poems, filthy poems. He knows when to say more, and when to say less:

It helps if you had an older brother

or a best friend who had an older brother

If you grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System, it would be a tragedy not to own this bizarre and wonderful little set of poems. Jeff turns the struggles of Mario into something nearly heroic, certainly human and frail: “so sing a psalm: everyday I’ll make mistakes tomorrow I’ll make most of them” (“Progress”). These poems have been developing publicly for at least a couple years now at open-mics and readings around Ottawa. Attentive crowds understood that something important was happening each time Jeff read from this manuscript. Following the production of a few of these poems as limited edition handmade broadsides last spring, we have something tangible and more widely available. At last.

Royal Jelly

Bardia Sinaee

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Bardia Sinaee is one of the most exciting young poets in Ottawa at the moment. He is one of four hosts of Literary Landscapes on CKCU, a former editor of In/Words, a recent “Hot Ottawa Voice” at the venerable Tree Reading Series, and a damned nice guy. He is also an intensely literate and articulate poet. He understands syllables, metres, sounds. For a young poet, he has a terrifyingly developed vision. He is well read and thoughtful, and deploys all of these characteristics in the service of serious but funny poems in Royal Jelly.

1

If a circle, C, is inside a triangle, T, then it entails

that C is smaller than T. The value of C would be unable

to hold its end of the equals sign. If the equation

were a gun-draw at dawn, C would lose by a hair

and buckle to its fate. Its lover and children

would mourn by its torn arms and wonder

why its body was built for bullets. (“The Inevitablist”)

Bardia writes rich poems that demand reading and re-reading. One always has the sense that there is more waiting to be drawn out. These are poems of careful construction that nonetheless appear effortless. The rate of Bardia’s development is difficult to measure, but is astonishing to follow.

Behind him, billboards plus peerless paediatrics

and a dated exhibition of bees. Try to find the queen

among all the workers and drones!

Behind that the ground, stapled with hydros,

won’t even shrug. (“7/4 Gridline”)

Odourless is a press to follow, and a welcome presence in Ottawa’s community. What is most striking and refreshing about these first three books is the presence of humour in each poet’s work. Balancing feeling and humour in a poem is an all too rare ability. Ben Ladouceur, Jeff Blackman, and Bardia Sinaee each accomplish this feat with personality to spare. Go buy these poems, for god’s sake! $1.50 for the set! Ottawa, meet Odourless Press. Odourless Press, welcome to Ottawa.

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